Makayla Epps hinted after the Belmont Game that Kentucky's matchup with Ohio State in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday would be her third Senior Night. The Lebanon native's words almost proved to be prophetic.
Like against Mississippi State the Wildcats fought hard against a quality foe. Like against Belmont Kentucky faced a team who's skill level overflowed the confines of their seeding.
However, unlike those two this contest proved to be the final chapter in Memorial Coliseum for number 25 as the Buckeyes advanced to the Sweet 16, 82-68.
One last time singing On, On U of K for @ThatEppsKidd25 and @akhator #ONE pic.twitter.com/wLHVSTEqp5— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) March 19, 2017
Kentucky played their opponents from north tight during the first quarter and only trailed by four, 20-16, after the opening ten minutes.
However, OSU's Kelsey Mitchell continued the trend started by Kylee Smith of Belmont and exploded on the Cats. She scored the majority of her team-high 21 points in the quarter, and the Buckeyes raced out to an eventual 15 point lead at the half, 46-31.
The Wildcats refused to die when the second half dawned, and traded baskets with the Buckeyes for the majority of the third quarter. Still down by 15, 54-39, with 5:27, big buckets from Mackenzie Cann and Maci Morris helped outscore OSU 14-7 to close the quarter.
Evelyn Akhator's rebound and continued good shooting by Morris as well as Epps kept breathing new life into the ladies in blue and white. After scratching and clawing to come back the entire game, an Epps layup off a dish from Akhator cut the Buckeyes' lead to one, 65-64. It seemed that Kentucky was on the verge of taking control.
Then the deep freeze happened.
Over the final 6:04 of the game Kentucky did not record a single field goal and saw nine consecutive shots draw iron.
During the drought, the Buckeyes prospered thanks to the scoring of Shayla Cooper, Tori McCoy, and former Wildcat Linnae Harper. Cooper scored 15 points. McCoy was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, she had 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Harper provided her team tremendous energy off the bench and recorded a double-double (12 points and ten rebounds) against her former team.
While it was not the way that either of them wanted to end their careers, Epps and Akhator played through offensive struggles and almost willed the Cats to victory. Epps finished 10-of-23 from the field for 21 points, but she was 0-of-3 from behind the 3-point line; she also had four assists and two rebounds. Akhator finished an uncharacteristic 4-of-20, but she did hit 6-of-8 foul shots to finish with 14 points, 23 monstrous rebounds, four blocks, and an assist.
Maci Morris was the only other Wildcat who scored in double-figures with 12 points, including two 3-pointers.