Twenty-four hours after pulling away late to score a season-opening upset over No. 14 Miami in the opening game of the Kentucky Classic at Memorial Coliseum, the 19th-ranked Kentucky women’s basketball team showed no signs of a Saturday hangover.
The Cats got off to a hot start and never let up, knocking off overmatched Albany 70-46 to improve to 2-0.
“I’m so proud of our team for how they performed this weekend and we’ll just do nothing but get better from here,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It was a great couple of days and I’m really looking forward to what we can become as a team.”
Evelyn Akhator dominated from the outset — pouring on points, corralling rebounds and fighting for loose balls. The Great Danes had no answer for the senior forward. Akhator scored Kentucky’s first seven points, going 3-for-3 from the field and converting an and-one. Her third basket got the Cats even with Albany at 7-all and was the first strike in a 12-0 UK run.
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On a night when star guard Makayla Epps struggled to find a rhythm on offense, Akhator provided a spark all over the court.
During one sequence in the second quarter, she hit the deck to force a tied-ball, then ripped down a rebound between two Great Danes and started a fast break that resulted in two Taylor Murray free throws and a 21-13 Kentucky lead.
With four minutes left in the half, Akhator swatted an Albany shot into the Kentucky bench, then muscled a shot over two defenders in the paint for a 29-19 lead.
Akhator locked up her second double-double in as many days with her 10th rebound midway through the third quarter. She capped the quarter with another three-point play to give the Cats a 53-34 lead, their biggest to that point.
Mitchell said Akhator told him before the game that she was going to have a “big night.” He said her patience within the offense played a huge role.
“Once we finally got into some rhythm and slowed down and we were able to feed her the ball, I thought she just made some great decisions,” he said. “Zero turnovers, that’s huge for her. A year ago if she’d had that many touches she would have probably had two or three traveling violations and she was just so much more poised with the ball and really made some explosive plays.”
Akhator scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting, with 13 rebounds and four blocks. She sank all eight of her foul shots.
“Akhator really took it to us,” said Albany first-year coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. “She did a nice job of manhandling us inside.”
Though Akhator was the Cats’ most potent weapon on offense — she was UK’s only double-figure scorer — defense was a group affair. The Cats packed the paint with a 2-3 zone for the second night in a row and held the Great Danes to 24.6 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers.
Coming off her 29-point effort against Miami, Epps couldn’t get going early. She drew two early charge calls and missed her first four shots. She finally got into the scoring column with a pair of free throws to give UK a 44-27 lead with 3:22 to go in the third quarter.
She found her footing in the fourth quarter, hitting another pair of free throws and knocking down jumpers on back-to-back possessions as Kentucky took its biggest lead at 68-39. Epps finished with eight points and six assists. Alyssa Rice and Maci Morris also had eight points.
“I’m just proud we were able to gut it out because they laid it on the line last night and gave everything they had,” Mitchell said. “That will not be the best we play all year. We’ll clearly get better ... but to just be able to grind it out and get a win, I was really proud of them.”
The Cats face New Hampshire in Memorial Coliseum Nov. 17 at 11 a.m.
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New Hampshire at Kentucky
11 a.m. Thursday