How No. 17 Kentucky (6-1) and No. 7 Louisville (6-2) match up — with a game prediction:
In Kentucky’s 82-68 win over No. 12 Oklahoma Thursday, sophomore Maci Morris played her best game of the season. The 6-foot-1 Bell County product had career highs of 19 points (6-of-12 shooting, 3-of-5 three-pointers) and 8 rebounds. For the season, Morris is UK’s third-leading scorer (12 ppg, 40.6 percent three-point shooting). Morris had 8 points in UK’s 72-54 victory over U of L in Rupp Arena last season.
Louisville’s Mariya Moore (12.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.8 assists), a 6-foot- junior from Hercules, Calif., had a team-high 17 points in U of L’s disappointing 83-59 loss to No. 3 South Carolina in Springfield, Mass., last Sunday. She came back with 13 points in the Cardinals’ 78-72 home loss to No. 5 Maryland Thursday. Moore did not play well in last season’s UK-U of L game, finishing with 7 points and 2 rebounds.
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Kentucky’s Evelyn Akhator has five double-doubles in UK’s first seven games. On the season, the 6-foot-3 senior from Lagos, Nigeria, is averaging a double-double (16 ppg, 10.9 rpg). She had 5 points and 9 rebounds vs. Louisville last year. The 2014-15 national Junior College Player of the Year, Akhator is the only consistent low-post producer on Kentucky’s depleted roster. It is vital she stay out of foul trouble and on the court against a deep U of L roster that boasts six players who are 6-2 or taller.
Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen was chosen ACC Player of the Year last season after averaging 17.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg and shooting 54.7 percent. The 6-2 junior from Montclair, N.J., — the sister of Kentucky football starter Josh Allen — is off to a slow start in 2016-17, however. Her scoring average is down to 9.8 ppg and she is shooting only 45.3 percent, though her rebounding (8.4) remains solid. A season ago, Hines-Allen had 16 points (8-of-17 field goals) and 7 boards against UK.
Kentucky’s Alyssa Rice is often praised by Matthew Mitchell for the positive intangibles she brings to the Wildcats program. UK needs the 6-3 junior from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, to provide more tangible production on the court, too. A 2014 McDonald’s All-American, Rice is averaging 4.6 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Louisville’s Cortnee Walton started all 34 games last season and averaged 5.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. A right elbow injury caused the 6-3 senior from Surprise, Ariz., to miss the Cardinals’ first 6 games in 2016-17. After making her season debut against South Carolina (2 points and 3 rebounds in 14 minutes), Walton returned to the starting lineup against Maryland and played well — 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting with 9 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Kentucky’s Makayla Epps (19 ppg, team-high 5.1 assists and 1.6 steals) has turned in star-level performances in the Wildcats’ victories over then-No. 14 Miami (29 points, 10-of-19 shooting) and No. 12 Oklahoma (30 points, 12-of-19). Conversely, she got only 8 shots (made 4) and had 14 points in UK’s 79-69 loss at Colorado. For UK to be competitive with elite competition, it needs the former Marion County star playing like a first-team All-American. A season ago, Epps did that against Louisville, hitting 10-of-11 shots and scoring 24 points.
Louisville’s Asia Durr was the highest-ranked recruit (No. 2 nationally by ESPN HoopGurlz) ever to sign with Louisville when she picked the Cardinals in 2015. After an injury-plagued freshman year (11.0 ppg), the 5-10 sophomore from Douglasville, Ga., leads U of L in scoring (18.9 ppg) this season. Louisville Coach Jeff Walz appears to have given Durr the green light; she took 27 shots (made 8) while scoring 20 points in the loss against Maryland. Durr had 7 points in 23 minutes last year in Rupp Arena.
Kentucky’s Taylor Murray made only 1 of 8 shots in the victory over Oklahoma, but still contributed 9 points (7-of-8 foul shooting), 6 rebounds and 3 assists. A 5-6 sophomore from Odenton, Md., Murray averages 10.6 ppg and 5 rebounds. A 2015 McDonald’s All-American, the jet-quick Murray is UK’s most troublesome defender. She had 11 points, 4 rebounds and 6 turnovers in UK’s victory over U of L last season.
After graduate transfer Taylor Johnson (Loyola of Chicago) started the first 7 games, Louisville reinserted Briahanna Jackson into the starting lineup against Maryland with mixed results — 9 points, 5 rebounds but 4-of-16 shooting. A 5-6 senior, Jackson started 33 of 34 games for U of L last season. A transfer from Central Florida, Jackson is averaging 8.9 ppg and a team-best 4 assists this season. She led the Cards with 18 points (5-of-15 shooting) and 8 rebounds in Rupp last year.
Former Anderson County star Makenzie Cann, a transfer from Cincinnati, has been a major contributor for UK. The 6-1 sophomore (9.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.9 assists) had a 20-point game vs. New Hampshire and has shown a knack for “winning basketball plays.” After an offseason of player departures and recruiting decommitments, Kentucky is otherwise thin off the bench. Former walk-on guard Jessica Hardin (5 ppg), who began her career at Division II Bellarmine, and freshman point guard Jaida Roper (1.1 ppg) are UK’s 7th and 8th players.
Louisville has 10 players averaging double-digit minutes. The Cardinals are getting early contributions from a celebrated freshman class that included two McDonald’s All-America post players, 6-4 Ciera Johnson (6.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and 6-4 Kylee Shook (5.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), and a 5-star guard, Jazmine Jones (4.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg).
Kentucky has beaten Louisville five years in a row, and six of seven, so expect the KFC Yum Center crowd to be at a fever pitch. Three times during the UK win streak, the Cats rallied from double-digits down to win. This season, Louisville has been outscored in the fourth quarter in six of its eight games. However, after the mass player defections of the past year, does UK still have the ability to wear U of L down?
Louisville 66, Kentucky 59