UK freshman Epps gets her groove back

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 8, 2014 

Freshman guard Makayla Epps (25) scored during a personal seven-point flurry in the second half against LSU last weekend. Epps had not scored in UK's previous seven games. "Buckets, that's what I needed," Epps said.

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  • Sunday

    No. 15 Kentucky at Florida

    When: Noon

    Records: UK 17-5 (5-4 SEC); Florida 16-7 (6-4 SEC)

    Series: UK leads 25-23

    Last meeting: UK won 83-73 on Jan. 5 at Lexington

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

  • SEC standings

    Conf. All

    South Carolina 9-1 21-2

    Tennessee 8-2 19-4

    Texas A&M 7-2 17-6

    LSU 7-3 18-5

    Vanderbilt 6-3 17-5

    Florida 6-4 16-7

    Kentucky 5-4 17-5

    Georgia 3-6 15-7

    Auburn 3-6 12-10

    Alabama 3-6 10-12

    Arkansas 3-7 16-7

    Mississippi State 3-7 16-8

    Missouri 3-7 14-9

    Mississippi 1-9 10-14

    Sunday's games

    Kentucky at Florida, noon

    Arkansas at South Carolina, 2 p.m.

    Mississippi at Georgia, 2 p.m.

    LSU at Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m.

    Mississippi St. at Auburn, 3 p.m.

    Alabama at Missouri, 3 p.m.

    Monday's game

    Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 9 p.m.

  • Lineups

    KENTUCKY

    Starters: Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (9.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., PG; (9.7 ppg, 3.1 apg, 2.0 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (9.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (10.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg); DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg).

    Key reserves: Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (12.0 ppg, 2.2, 3.1 apg); Azia Bishop, 6-4, Jr., F (6.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (3.8 ppg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (6.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (4.4 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

    FLORIDA

    Starters: Carlie Needles, 5-6, So., G (6.3 ppg); Jaterra Bonds, 5-7, Sr., G (15.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.4 apg); Cassie Peoples, 5-6, So., G (10.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.8 apg); Kayla Lewis, 6-0, Jr., G (10.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg); Lily Svete, 6-2, Sr., F (6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

    Key reserves: Ronni Williams, 6-0, Fr., G/F (8.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg); January Miller, 5-8, So., G (10.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Antoinette Bannister, 5-10, So., G (6.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg).

For a couple of weeks, it was like Makayla Epps wasn't even on Kentucky's team.

In a recent, less-than-pleasant team film session, the freshman guard heard her head coach call her a "non-factor."

He highlighted the zeroes across the stat sheet in seven straight games, save for a foul or a turnover.

"She is unbelievably talented and strong and skilled and gifted and was just doing nothing for us," Coach Matthew Mitchell said.

Epps, the highly touted McDonald's All-American and Miss Basketball, hadn't scored a point since the first week of January.

Like the rest of her Kentucky teammates, she was in a funk.

But Epps didn't want to believe it.

In fact, she didn't believe it until she saw it — in color, during UK's film study a week ago.

"When you see it on film, you're like, 'Man, I'm not running hard. I'm not in a defensive stance. I should've shot it and I didn't take the shot,'" the former Marion County star said. "Film tells all."

In case the film didn't tell her enough, Mitchell had an honest conversation with the guard two Fridays ago as UK prepped for No. 14 Louisiana State. He told Epps — and all of his players — to go home and figure out what is holding them back.

Epps did some soul searching.

She didn't recognize the player on the film wearing her No. 25.

It wasn't the same player that helped Marion County go undefeated and win a Sweet Sixteen championship last season.

"I don't know what's got me down or what's gotten into me, but my confidence was low," Epps said.

"My big problem is I'm scared to mess up. ... Like he's always talking ball reversal and I'll be so focused on that, that I won't realize how wide open I was."

So Epps tried to channel her inner high school self. She thought about that girl when she walked into UK's two practices the next day.

"There needs to be some more swagger in my game; I've got to get that high school swag back, just go play," she said as Kentucky prepared to play Florida (16-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference), a team that upset the Cats 83-73 at Memorial Coliseum a month ago.

That loss was the first of seven straight games that Epps' stat line flashed zeroes.

Mitchell and Epps' teammates recognized the change in her almost instantly.

"She probably did one of the best jobs I have ever seen a freshman just really, really getting taking to task in a film session and actually showing up the next day and trying to correct it," he said.

"She changed her attitude Friday night when she went home and thought about it and came back Saturday a different player."

That player returned a day later on Sunday when Kentucky beat LSU at Memorial Coliseum. Epps scored seven straight points at a key time in the second half. She finished with seven points and two rebounds in 14 minutes.

"Buckets," Epps said with a big smile. "That's what I needed. I need buckets to get me going to get back."

In this final stretch of seven games, Epps hopes she can have more of those and help No. 15 Kentucky (17-5, 5-4) stay on the winning track.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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