The road continues to be unkind to Matthew Mitchell's No. 17 Kentucky Hoops team as they fell 72-65 in Knoxville against archival Tennessee. Kentucky played well and only trailed by seven at halftime. They took care of the basketball, only turning it over five times, and slightly lost the rebounding battle 39-35. Still, the Wildcats dropped to 9-5 and could never trim the deficit past under four points. In such an evenly played contest, several small factors conspired to keep the ladies in blue and white out of the winner's circle.
Taylor Murray's Breakout Continues
The emergence of sophomore guard Taylor Murray is a God send for a Kentucky team that struggles with consistency. Tennessee had no answer for her in the fastbreak as she drove the ball to the hoop at will as she finished with a game-high 23 points to go with six rebounds and two assists. Murray's active hands sparked several runouts, and that is when Matthew Mitchell's team looked their best. The soft-spoken Murray was also vocally in command of the team when she ran the point, another key development for the Wildcats.
Epps and Akhator Struggled Getting Going
For Kentucky be successful, especially on the road, senior leaders Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator, need to play consistent basketball. Against the Vols, that was not the case. Akhator got in foul trouble during the first half and spent several prolonged stretches on the bench. She did not even attempt a basket in the first half. Epps could not buy a bucket-she scored eight points on 3-of-13 shooting--until late in the second quarter. The duo's play trended upward in the second half, especially Akhator who earned another double-double with 11 points and ten rebounds. One has to wonder if Kentucky would have gotten over the hump with a full game from both.
Maci Morris Scored An Ugly 15 Points
Morris is one of the toughest and smartest players on the squad. Her hustle and defense have evened out a rough offensive start to the season. However, today they could not save Morris from a puzzling selection of shots. The Bell County product took an uncharacteristic 21 shots from the field, including nine 3's; she only made five, including two triples. An aggressive Morris is good for the team, but a less is more approach will be beneficial in the future.
Ultimately 3's and Bench Points Did the Cats In
Kentucky was never out of the game, even when the Vols pushed the lead to as many as 12 points in the second half. The real difference lay in 3-pointers made and an off day for Kentucky's reserves. The Wildcats finished the game 2-of-16 from behind the line in contrast to UT's 5-of-16. Tennessee barely outscored Kentucky 6-2 in bench points, but UK missed an injured Jessica Hardin and a healthy Mackenzie Cann (she played in a mask). A slight increase in either total and the game might have swung in Kentucky's favor.