No. 25 Kentucky entered this afternoon’s tilt with Vanderbilt needing a lift after the mauling they received against South Carolina on Thursday night.
The Commodores were the perfect opponent for a much needed rebound as they entered the game at .500 and trending down in the conference race with a 1-8 SEC record. Which is exactly why this was and almost became a trap game for Matthew Mitchell’s squad.
Vandy jumped out to an early lead and hung tough for majority of the forty minutes assigned to regulation. Even though the visitors played the better game, Kentucky found a way to claw their way to the team’s first victory in two games to improve their record to 16-8 on the season and and 7-4 in the conference.
Vandy Was Dandy
An examination of the stat sheets reveals that the Commodores out played the Cats in several can’t lose categories.
They pounded UK on glass 41-29, hit eight 3-pointers, and held the Wildcats to 40 percent shooting, including 2-of-14 from deep (14 percent).
Forward Kayla Overbeck powered through Kentucky’s front line to record a double-double with 18 points and 12 boards. Christa Reed joined her as the only other Vandy player in double digits with 12.
What sunk the visitor’s chances were the two cardinal sins of pulling the upset: don’t turn the ball over and don’t put your opponent on the foul line.
The Clinchers for the Cats
To offset a rough shooting day, honestly a rough day all the way around, Kentucky had to rediscover their defensive identity.
Going back to a hallmark of Coach Mitchell’s earlier teams, suffocating pressure, the Wildcats forced 21 Vanderbilt turnovers, even though they only turned a modest amount of them (14) into points. However, that created enough empty trips for Kentucky to continue to build a small, solid lead as the game wore on.
Mostly thanks to 23 Vandy team fouls that sent the Cats to the line 22 times. To the the hosts credit, they sank a fantastic 19, split between the trio of Evelyn Akhator, Makayla Epps, and Taylor Murray.
The Big 3 Carried the Cats
At some point this season, either Akhator, Epps, or Murray has been the game-saving catalyst for Kentucky. Against Vanderbilt all three carried equal shares of the work load as the rest of the team struggled to find their footing, outside of Alyssa Rice who had a consecutive quality game with 8 points.
The trio combined for 61 of Kentucky’s 71 points and stuffed the stat sheets in along the way.
Makayla Epps scored 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and dished out five assists. She also went 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
Akhator fell short of a double-double but snagged eight rebounds to compliment a sensational 20 points even. After struggling at the line for the past few games, Akhator righted the ship and hit 6-of-8 foul shots.
Taylor Murray netted 18 points coupled with seven assists, and five rebounds. Murray was also perfect from the charity stripe.