From UK Athletics
No. 15 Kentucky Downs Middle Tennessee, 61-48
Wildcats Dominate Rebounding Battle in Victory
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore guard Taylor Murray scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Kentucky women’s basketball team beat Middle Tennessee 61-48 on Friday night in non-conference action at Memorial Coliseum.
Senior Evelyn Akhator notched her sixth double-double of the season and the 19th of her career, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the contest. Kentucky’s leading scorer on the season, senior Makayla Epps, was saddled with foul trouble for most of the first half, but was able to score 13 points in the contest, with 11 of those coming after halftime.
Kentucky (7-2) dominated the rebounding battle, grabbing 44 compared to Middle Tennessee’s 22. The Wildcats had 18 offensive rebounds and were able to turn those into 11 points. Kentucky also dominated inside, scoring 34 points in the paint to 20 for Middle Tennessee.
Kentucky scored the first four points of the game on a layup by Epps and a jumper by Murray. But Middle Tennessee answered with an 8-1 run to lead 8-5. The Blue Raiders would maintain a similar lead through most of the first period, leading 18-15 at the end of the frame. Murray had eight of Kentucky’s 15 points in the quarter, as the Wildcats shot 50 percent (six of 12) from the field. However, Kentucky turned the ball over seven times in the game’s first 10 minutes, leading to eight Middle Tennessee points.
Middle Tennessee (2-4) started the second quarter on a 5-1 run to extend its lead to 23-16. But Kentucky had a big answer, scoring 11 in a row to take a 27-23 advantage. Middle Tennessee rallied to tie the game at 31-31 before Kentucky got baskets from Jaida Roper and Maci Morris to close the half leading 35-31. Akhator had seven points in the quarter for Kentucky and Roper had five. Roper finished the game with a career-high seven points.
Kentucky played almost the entire second quarter without its leading scorer, as Epps picked up her second foul early in the period and went to the bench, having scored just two points in the first half.
The third quarter started with a Murray jumper and an Epps layup and free throw, extending Kentucky’s lead to 40-31. Kentucky would extend its lead with a 7-2 run at the end of the period, as the Wildcats took a 51-41 lead into the final frame. Epps had five points in the quarter, Murray had four and Akhator had three points and six rebounds during the period.
Both teams came out cold in the fourth quarter, with Kentucky making just one of its first seven shots from the floor while Middle Tennessee missed its first six attempts in the frame. In fact, over the first 7:13 of the final period, Middle Tennessee had scored just three points, all on free throws, and Kentucky’s four points came on layups by Epps and Alyssa Rice. Middle Tennessee would go more than eight minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders finished the period making just one of 11 shots (9.1 percent) from the floor.
Kentucky’s second-half defense was stellar, as the Wildcats held Middle Tennessee to five of 23 field goals in the half, and no three-pointers, after the Blue Raiders hit six threes in the first 20 minutes.
Kentucky did not hit a three-pointer in a game for the first time since November 27, 2014 when the Wildcats lost to Illinois in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday, facing Arizona State at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.
Highlights from UK Sports Video
KENTUCKY WOMEN’S BASKETBALL POSTGAME NOTES
No. 15 Kentucky vs. Middle Tennessee
Memorial Coliseum – Lexington, Ky.
Dec. 9, 2016
FINAL SCORE: No. 15 Kentucky 61, Middle Tennessee 48
Team Records and Series Notes
– Matthew Mitchell is in his 10th season with Kentucky. Mitchell is 256-120 overall as a head coach and 226-91 during his tenure at Kentucky.
– Currently, UK is No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 18 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25. Kentucky has been ranked in both the USA Today/Coaches’ Top 25 and The Associated Press Top 25 since week 13 of the 2009-10 season, which is a program-record streak of 137 weeks.
– Kentucky leads the all-time series 15-4 against the Blue Raiders, including a 9-1 edge in games played in Lexington.
o UK has now won the last five meetings between the two programs.
o Last season, the Wildcats earned a 68-52 victory in Murfreesboro.
– Kentucky will return to action Sunday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. ET, when the Wildcats host Arizona State inside Rupp Arena. The game will be broadcast live on SEC Network and on the UK Sports Radio Network in Lexington on 630AM WLAP.
– Kentucky used the starting five of Makayla Epps, Evelyn Akhator, Maci Morris, Makenzie Cann and Taylor Murray.
o UK is 1-1 this season with that starting-five combination.
– Tonight’s win brings UK’s record to 7-2 overall.
– With tonight’s victory, Kentucky is 58-31 against Conference USA opponents.
– After Middle Tennessee had stretched its lead to 23-16 early in the second quarter, Kentucky went on a 11-0 run to regain a 27-23 lead and would not relinquish the lead again.
o Kentucky has recorded eleven 10-0 or more runs this season.
– Kentucky dominated the boards, outrebounding the Blue Raiders 44-22.
o The +22 rebounding margin was Kentucky’s largest of the season.
– UK controlled the paint, posting 34 points in the paint to Middle Tennessee’s 20.
– The Wildcats held Middle Tennessee to only 17 points in the second half, which is the lowest second-half scoring performance from a UK opponent this season.
o UK also held the Blue Raiders to 10 or less points in both the third (10) and fourth (7) quarter, which is the first time Kentucky has held an opponent to 10 or less in consecutive quarters this season.
o The last time UK held an opponent to 10 or less points in consecutive quarters was March 19, 2016, when Kentucky held UNC Ashville to only five points in both the second and fourth quarter and only 10 points in the third.
o Middle Tennessee scored 18 points in the first quarter but only 17 points in the second half.
– The game marked the first in which the Wildcats did not make a 3-pointer since Nov. 27, 2014, when UK went 0-of-6 from long range against Illinois.
o UK was 0-of-9 from beyond the arc in tonight’s contest.
– UK’s 61 points represent its lowest scoring total of the season as its lowest prior to tonight’s game came Dec. 4 against Louisville when Kentucky had 67 points.
– Taylor Murray led the Wildcats in scoring with 16 points.
o Murray also had seven rebounds and three assists.
o Murray has now scored in double-figures in five of the last six contests and has averaged 15.5 points in those games.
– Evelyn Akhator earned her sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 boards.
o Akhator’s double-double marked the 19th of her UK career which are the sixth-most in school history.
o Led UK in rebounding for the seventh time this season.
– Makayla Epps scored 13 points to go along with three rebounds and three assists in the game.
o With today’s performance, her career-points total climbs to 1,375.
o Epps needs 112 points (1,445 total) to enter Kentucky’s top-10 scorers in school history.
o Epps has now scored in double-figures in eight of UK’s nine games.
– Jaida Roper added seven points, three rebounds and three assists.
o Roper’s seven points and three rebounds both marked career highs for the freshman.
– Makenzie Cann had six points and three assists in her second career start for UK.
– Alyssa Rice posted four points and six boards in the outing.
Kentucky Women’s Basketball
Kentucky-Middle Tennessee Postgame Quotes
Memorial Coliseum – Lexington, Ky.
DEC. 9, 2016
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening Statement …
“We played a very aggressive team tonight that was well-coached, hard-nosed, a physical basketball team. We had to figure some things out tonight and I was really happy to have to see our team win one with defense and just grind it out on a night where the opponent was making it tough for us on the offensive end and we had to fight for a victory. We really had to fight for it. I’m real proud of our team. This is a great, great victory and excited for them that they earned this one. This will be a good one. They’ll be glad they won this one.”
On the reaction when Makayla Epps had early foul trouble …
“Just an unbelievable job by the team because that could have been very deflating and we could have panicked. When she went out, I don’t know if we were behind or not, but that was not an ideal situation. We were able to go into halftime with the lead, and I was really, really proud of that. One of the things that we talked about tonight was that we knew we were going to have to win this one together, so some people really stepped up. Jaida Roper stepped up and had her best game of the year and really when a few of us were backing up and kind of unsure – she just came in and made some really aggressive plays that was able to give our team some confidence. I’m real proud of Jaida. I know she’s real proud of that. She’s been working real hard. We’ve been really working her hard, so I’m glad she got some results there. Really pleased with the way the team responded because it was kind of like your security blanket getting taken away from you with Makayla (Epps) being out and I thought they responded outstanding.”
On what has been good about Roper this week in practice …
“We have been really been trying to work individual workouts with her – and all of the team – but really with her. Jaida has been coming in for extra workouts and I just thought that she – coming in a little early, staying a little late – before and after practice to get some individual work – you’re starting to get the signal of how hard she’s going to have to work. It’s really difficult as a freshman to come in and know when you’ve been so successful in high school and then to get here and struggle a bit – it can be hard on a freshman. But, this didn’t happen overnight. This has been building for three or four weeks. She’s really been working hard. I thought she made some great passes tonight. The thing with her, is she has been having a tough time on defense competing and getting after it. She’s not going to be the fastest, most athletic or the biggest – so she’s got to show real tenacity and she showed that tenacity tonight. She did some really good things.”
On the response of Evelyn Akhator after Sunday’s uncharacteristically bad game …
“Really great. I think that she’s such a high-character person and such a worker. We took Monday off and came back in here Tuesday and we went pretty early Tuesday with the start of our individual workouts and I was excited for this week to try and get better. There were so many things that I felt like we could work on and try and improve. So she had a great week, and she was flying around out there making plays and really proud of her because she made a left-handed hook tonight – I was really pumped about that.”
On what Roper brought to the offense tonight …
“She had some plays that I really thought energized us offensively. We were playing tentative and she just got the ball and played straight downhill. She got to the (free throw) line a couple of times and I thought that kind of settled everybody down and then she hit a jumper. She had some great passes for lay-ups, so good job by Jaida. She helped us tonight. That’s what we need.”
On the defensive strategy in the second half after MTSU shot lights out early …
“Middle Tennessee outnumbered us in the 2-3. We just are not where we need to be yet to shift it to a 3-2. We are not real sure on the 2-3 yet, much less the 3-2, but that was just a good scheme and they were just making shots. Some of the teams we’ve been playing zone against has worked because they haven’t been making 3s. Not because we have been an outstanding defensive team. At the time when you think about it, Epps had gone out, Taylor (Murray) had given us a lot defensively, so I was just trying to get into the zone to see if we could steal a couple of possessions and Ty Petty was not letting us do that. But then it sort of ends up working out because Epps ended up sitting all of that time and we had some people get some breaks because we just went all man-to-man in the second half. That’s all they did. We were able to make a few plays and that was how we needed to win this game. They were on fire in that first half.”
On the rebounding discrepancy …
“I thought we got active on the offensive glass in the second half. We got really active on the offensive glass, which really helps us because that takes away defensive rebounds from them and adds to our rebounding total. And then we were able to match up better in our man-to-man and match up just a little bit better and to keep them off the boards. Evelyn (Akhator) had a really active night, Alyssa (Rice) was in there and we had two bigs down there finishing plays. It was a good night rebounding.”
On Sunday’s “Pack the House” game vs. Arizona State …
“It’s a big, big game for us. Arizona State is outstanding. We had a tremendous overtime game with them last season. There’s last I checked over 22,000 tickets out, so if we can walk in that building with a packed house – the biggest crowd in the country this year – it really gives us a jolt of energy. I know our kids will be extremely excited to play and we will need everything we can muster right now to beat a quality Arizona State team. They are so tough and tenacious defensively and we will have to play our very best. So, any boost the crowd can give us will be really appreciative.”
Kentucky Player Quotes
#13 Evelyn Akhator, F, Sr.
On if she felt she needed a big game after a disappointing outing at Louisville …i
“It all started with me talking to my team and my coaches. I kind of struggled and got into foul trouble early and it really got me down against Louisville. After the game, I told the coaches about it and they told me that I cannot control it so I just need to control what I can control, which is me being positive.”
On how she played tonight …
“I felt good. I felt that I should have given more. Middle Tennessee played tough tonight and I felt that I should have given more.”
On if the team practices situations where Makayla may not be on the floor …
“Like she (Taylor) said, we normally go through every position just in case something happens and we need other teammates to help. It’s all about getting confidence and just doing the what if game.”
On how physical the game was …
“Well, it was kind of tough. Alex Johnson is a really good player. So trying to front her or stop her from getting the ball was physical. You just have to play tough to be able to stop her.”
#24 Taylor Murray, G, Soph.
On Makayla Epps getting into foul trouble but the team not panicking …
“Yeah, that is just one thing that we practice each and every day. Coach (Lin) Dunn always says patience on offense and just be poised. So if we have another player struggling it is just my job to step up and make sure the team is relaxed and not rushing on offense and that we are going at a good pace and doing what we are supposed to do.”
On if the team practices situations where Makayla may not be on the floor …
“Yeah, we practice and we all have different positions so if Makayla is out we all know how each person plays. So it is very strenuous but working hard at the same time.”
On if she calls the defense …
“Sometimes I look over at Coach Mitchell and he will give out signals or sometimes if we area already in a defense we just stay in that defense unless he switches it up. So most of the time if we are going coast-to-coast, I will say ‘55’ or ‘2’. So if he switches up something, I will just give him that call and relay it to my teammates.”
Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Insell Quotes
“There was a lot of glaring weaknesses on our part. We can’t win ball games when some of our players go like… I think we went 15-of-40, and we just can’t do that. We missed 10 shots just on the block, so those are shots we usually knock down. We couldn’t keep (Taylor) Murray off the boards and she’d get put-backs or tips and keep the ball alive, and that was just tough on us. I think Mathew (Mitchell) has done a good job – probably done his best job with this team. They know what they’re doing and they knock down shots and they go at the boards hard. They’re more athletic than some people give them credit for. Evelyn (Akhator) is hard to keep off the glass, you have a ball handler in Murray then you have shooters around and they present your team some problems. But there are some things we felt like we could have done better and we just didn’t do it.”
On whether Makayla Epps being out due to foul trouble was an advantage for them…
“It could’ve been a big advantage, and it should’ve been, but it wasn’t. The little kid from Memphis (Jaida Roper) came in and did a lot better job than we thought she’d do. I think that’s the most she played all year in a big game, but she did a pretty good job. She knocked down a shot or two and drove inside and attack to the center. I think that Epps doesn’t have to get any points for this team to be good. If anyone doubles Epps they’re crazy because you aren’t going to take it away from her. She’s going to find who’s open and get it to them. So you better help on her or recover and hope that you can get back and cover one of those shooters. The mark of a good player is making everyone around you better. If we just had to guard Epps tonight, we could’ve won the ball game, but her presence is out there even when she’s on the bench ready to come back in. She’s a good kid, great player and I think one of the top two or three draft picks in the country. Somebody in the WNBA is going to get a good guard.”
Middle Tennessee Player Quotes
#00 Alex Johnson, Sophomore, F
On Coach Insell’s remarks about her and how she felt about her performance…
“Coach definitely sees the best in all of us, not just me. So when he’s coming at me and presenting me with the stats, he’s only trying to help me. Like he said, tonight I had some missed shots that I should’ve put in. So I just have to go back and continue working on them.”
#20 Ty Petty, Senior, G
On Coach Insell saying she is one of the top five guards in the country and that he’ll miss her …
“It definitely means a lot. Like he said, I’ve been with him for four years, so I’m going to miss them just as much as they are going to miss me.”
On her overall performance…
“The only really worry was about the points. I would’ve rather had the win like coach said. I was guarding Murray the whole time, so it’s my fault for not boxing out and keeping her off of boards, but I just tried to do everything I could. I could’ve done better though.”