Double-doubles are becoming ho-hum for Kentucky’s Evelyn Akhator, who racked up her third straight Thursday night.
But it was a new thing for Taylor Murray, who had 11 points and a career-best 13 rebounds in the Cats’ 55-42 victory over Louisiana State, their first win at the Pete Maravich Center since 2010.
“It’s exciting,” Murray said in her usual unemotional, deadpan way. “Anything I can do to help our team win.”
It led Coach Matthew Mitchell to respond to Murray with tongue firmly in cheek: “You look very excited.”
Kentucky’s coach was excited enough for all of his players after the Cats won their third straight game, outrebounding LSU by 15 and holding the Tigers to their lowest offensive output of the season.
LSU’s previous lows this season were against top-five teams in Mississippi State (48) and Connecticut (53).
“It’s good to be playing good defense on the road,” Mitchell said. “I was so proud of the team for playing tough defense tonight.”
The Tigers’ six points in the first quarter was their lowest scoring quarter of the season, and it continued a UK trend. Over the last three games, the Cats have held opponents to a combined 19 points in the first quarter.
While containing LSU, Kentucky raced out to a 12-point lead it never relinquished.
“We’ve come a billion miles defensively and they’re really hustling, giving great effort,” Mitchell said of UK, which held LSU to 32.7 percent shooting. “They’re hustling, giving great effort.”
The Cats got their usual great effort from Akhator, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds. It was her third straight game with 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds, which hasn’t happened for a UK player since Leslie Nichols did it in 1984.
While Akhator was a “beast,” as LSU Coach Nikki Fargas referred to her after the game, Murray was a problem, too. With each rebound — including 11 on the defensive end — Murray was able to get the ball in space and create offense. It helped the sophomore guard dish out five assists as well.
“Taylor just had some monster rebounds in there, really tough and so it was very key,” Mitchell said. “The backboard was huge in this game tonight. I’m so proud to see that 15-rebound edge for the Wildcats.”
Kentucky got off to a speedy start and LSU failed to fire, making just one of its first nine shots.
But then the Cats (13-6, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) cooled considerably. After managing 12 points in the first four minutes, they scored just 11 points over the next 16.
Shooting just 20 percent in the second quarter, UK saw its 13-point lead dwindle to seven at the break, 23-16.
“If you’d said that Kentucky was only going to have 23 points in the first half, I’d have said that’s a great defensive effort because our goal is keep our opponents under 50,” Fargas said. “Our offense just did not come through for us tonight.”
Akhator, who had six of UK’s first 12 points, had 10 points and five rebounds at the half. Her layup with 27 seconds left ended a four-minute scoring drought for the Cats.
That was matched only by LSU’s own dry spell. The Tigers (14-5, 3-3) went a little more than five minutes without a point early in the second quarter.
“We just needed to keep our poise and that is what we did,” said Akhator, who notched her 11th double-double of the season and the 24th of her Kentucky career. “We just kept our poise and played tough.”
In the third quarter, UK regrouped offensively and used a 14-4 run to grab a 17-point advantage a couple of times. It led by as many as 18.
Makayla Epps, who Fargas called Kentucky’s “Batman,” was held to nine points and six rebounds. Maci Morris added eight points.
The Tigers missed 13 of their 17 shot attempts in the third quarter and struggled to get to loose balls.
LSU recovered some in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough. The Tigers were led by Raigyne Moncrief’s 15 points and five rebounds. Chloe Jackson added 13 points and five boards.
Kentucky’s road swing continues Sunday at Auburn, which has won three in a row, including a 79-61 victory over Tennessee on Thursday night.
Kentucky at Auburn
3 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network)