The saying goes that when the weather outside is frightful than inside it must be delightful. The UK Hoops team pushed the veracity of the old maxim to the limit against Missouri 64-62 in Memorial Coliseum tonight.
Kentucky scored only eight points in the first quarter, hit eight 3’s in the first half and saw a 13 point fourth quarter lead melt down to three with under thirty seconds to play.
Despite the topsy-turvy shifts in fortune, the Wildcats picked up their tenth win of the season and demonstrated their peaks, and valleys, as a basketball team.
Makayla Epps lead the Cats in scoring with 17 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Evelyn Akhator scored nine fourth quarter points to end up with 14 for the game coupled with eight rebounds. Maci Morris was the only other player for UK to finish in double figures with 11 points.
The Cats shooting was as frigid as the temperature outside to open the game. Scoring droughts plagued the Wildcats during the nonconference portion of their schedule, and they did not buck the trend against Mizzou. Poor shot selection and a five-minute hole between a Maci Morris triple and a jumper at the top key put the Cats in an early hole. Kentucky missed nine of their first ten shots and finished the quarter 3-of-14 (21 percent). Only Epps’ buzzer-beating 3 kept the Cats from a double-digit deficit after the opening ten.
A 17-0 run completely flipped the game’s momentum. Epps’ triple ignited an absolute firestorm of 3’s for UK in the second quarter. Two came from unexpected sources, freshmen Jaida Roper and Paige Poffenberger who are not known as 3-point gunners. Mackenzie Cann and Taylor Murray joined in on the fun, and Kentucky found soon found themselves up by double digits. They finished the half shooting over 60 percent (8-of-13) from beyond the arc. As the Cats surged ahead, Missouri’s basket had a lid slammed down on it. The Tigers only hit 2-of-12 shots and were outscored 26-6 in the quarter as Kentucky went into the half up by 13, 34-21.
Kentucky failed to feed their beast--at least in the early going. The drawback to a team getting hot from the outside is that they fall in love with it. That is a definite no-no when you have a post player the caliber of Evelyn Akhator. Through three-quarters, Akhator attempted only four shots, mostly put backs or jumpers. The guards seemed more content to feed Alyssa Rice than Akhator. The problem: Rice is struggling with her confidence on the offensive end of the floor and often her slower foot speed leads to her getting in trouble deep in the post; of course, the result is often turnovers. The team is at their best when they get the ball to Akhator early and often, such as in the fourth quarter when a number of touches by the senior yielded key baskets that put the game seemingly out of reach.
Unfortunately, UK’s fourth quarter scoring struggles continued against the Tigers. The Cats did not put the ball in the basket for over six minutes. Meanwhile, Missouri put together a mini 6-0 run over the the same period and cut the lead to ten, 58-48, late in the quarter. Missed free throws and turnovers gave the Tigers renewed life, and they cut the lead to three, 63-60 with under ten seconds to play. A Morris free throw was enough to preserve the lead, but the Wildcats near late game collapse is quickly becoming an alarming trend that Coach Mitchell and his staff need to fix, now.