Want to know how dominant Evelyn Akhator has been in the last three games?
Kentucky’s senior forward and the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week has had 29 defensive rebounds in games against Alabama, Georgia and LSU.
Those three teams combined to get just 26 offensive rebounds going up against Akhator.
“Every night she comes with an attitude of ‘I’m going to outwork my opponent,’” Tigers Coach Nikki Fargas said on Thursday night after UK won its third straight behind yet another double-double from Akhator. “We had some chances to keep her off the glass and she just outworked us. She’s playing like one of the best players in the SEC.”
Since Kentucky’s lackluster performance against Texas A&M at Memorial Coliseum four games ago, Akhator has been a force for the Cats, who travel to Auburn (14-5, 4-1 SEC) on Sunday.
In the last three games, since she hit the reset button after a meeting with teammates and her head coach, Akhator has averaged 24.3 points and 14 rebounds, hitting 72.7 percent from the field.
“She is starting to blossom into the player we hoped she could be,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the junior college transfer from Lagos, Nigeria. “She’s playing very well right now. We’re obviously benefiting tremendously from her play.”
No magic wands were used in the transformation.
But maybe a little bit of psychology.
“She was letting negative plays early in the game wreck her game,” he said of her inconsistencies and slow decision-making during the season. “So we just talked about how important she was to the team.”
He told her to stop worrying about what might go wrong or what the consequences of a bad play might be.
“We told her to have confidence in herself,” Mitchell continued.
Her energy, enthusiasm and work ethic are contagious.
She saw that on the Tuesday after the Texas A&M game when she showed energy during team stretching. Akhator, who is averaging 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in SEC games this season, started being a more vocal leader in practice, too.
“Everybody really got focused in,” he said of the team’s change of attitude after the loss to the Aggies. “We tried to talk about what every person could do, their individual role on the team and then I just think the leadership of the team.
“Evelyn has made a big difference just trying to step up and lead. And Makayla (Epps) and all the kids have come to practice with good effort, good enthusiasm every day.”
At LSU on Thursday, Akhator recorded her 11th double-double of the season and the 24th in her career, fourth most in UK history.
Akhator became the first UK player since Leslie Nichols in 1984 to record three straight games of 20 or more points with 10 plus rebounds.
On the road again
With back-to-back games on the road in the Central time zone with just three days between them, Mitchell and Kentucky (13-6, 4-2) opted to stay on the road and go straight from LSU to Auburn.
The Tigers have won three straight games, including a key win over Tennessee on Thursday night. Auburn is second in the nation in turnovers forced at 24 per game and the Tigers are third nationally in steals with 239 in all.
UK is coming off a game against LSU, also top five nationally in those stats. Not having to dramatically alter the game plan during this stretch has helped ease the quick turnaround on the road, Mitchell said on Friday.
“If it was two contrasting styles — not to say they’re identical — but I think it really helps us that our game plan is all about turnover margin, making sure we take care of the ball,” he said of UK, which averages a league-low 12.2 turnovers a game, top 10 in the country.
Kentucky at Auburn
When: 3 p.m.
Records: UK 16-6 (4-2 SEC); Auburn 14-5 (4-1)
Series: Auburn leads 26-20
Last meeting: UK won 54-47 on Jan. 17, 2016, in Lexington
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Probable starters: Maci Morris, 6-0, G, So. (11.2 pts, 2.7 rebs, 1.7 asts); Evelyn Akhator, 6-3, F, Sr. (15.3 pts, 10.7 rebs); Taylor Murray, 5-6, G, So. (12.6 pts, 5.2 rebs, 2.7 asts); Makayla Epps, 5-10, G, Sr. (16.3 pts, 4.2 rebs, 3.8 asts); Alyssa Rice, 6-3, C, Jr. (3.8 pts, 4.8 rebs)
Key reserves: Makenzie Cann, 6-1, G, Jr. (7.1 pts, 4.0 rebs); Jessica Hardin, 5-8, G, Sr. (3.5 pts); Paige Poffenberger, 5-8, G, Fr. (1.2 pts); Jaida Roper, 5-6, PG, Fr. (2.3 pts, 1.4 asts)
Probable starters: Jazmine Jones, 6-2, F, Jr. (5.3 pts, 4.4 rebs); Jessica Jones, 6-2, F, Jr. (4.2 pts, 5.4 rebs); Brandy Montgomery, 5-10, G, Sr. (15.4 pts, 3.0 rebs); Katie Frerking, 6-1, G/F, Sr. (16.4 pts, 7.1 rebs, 2.8 asts); Janiah McKay, 5-6, G, So. (13.2 pts, 3.6 asts)
Key reserves: Daisa Alexander, 5-8, G, Fr. (1.8 pts); Erica Sanders, 5-10, G, So. (2.1 pts, 3.0 rebs); Emari Jones, 5-10, G, So. (2.1 pts); Tiffany Lewis, 5-8, G, Jr. (4.6 pts); Khady Dieng, 5-10, G, Sr. (1.3 pts, 1.9 asts)