It’s a play that will be burned in Ole Miss players’ brains after getting torched by Kentucky 89-57 on Thursday night.
With little time left in the first half and the shot clock about to expire, UK’s Makayla Epps went after a loose ball like the game was on the line even though her team was up by more than two dozen points.
“I’ll show our kids that tape and I’ll show them that play about 100 times over the next two days,” Rebels Coach Matt Insell said. “Epps just diving after a ball. … Just playing hard.”
Hard work paid off for Kentucky against Ole Miss as the Cats won their fifth straight game behind 28 points and 13 rebounds from Evelyn Akhator and 20 points, six assists and four rebounds from Epps.
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“Coaches always reiterate 50-50 plays are huge,” Epps said when asked about that play. “It’s getting it in your mind that you have to hustle because 50-50 plays are really important. I’ll have to see that play and make sure Coach notices that.”
Coach Matthew Mitchell had to notice the hard work as Kentucky sprinted out to a 46-18 lead at the break and led by as many as 38 points against an Ole Miss team that had beaten UK the last two times they played.
And Kentucky did it with just six scholarship players available after key reserve Makenzie Cann was diagnosed with the flu on Wednesday and Jessica Hardin continued to work through the concussion protocol.
“Everybody just turned it up and played hard and were aggressive,” Mitchell said of UK, which fell behind 2-0 before riding its defense to a 12-point lead while shooting 61.1 percent in the first quarter.
“Our butts didn’t have it,” said Insell, a former UK assistant coach. “Kentucky did. We didn’t play very hard and when you don’t play hard you get your butt kicked.”
In the second quarter, things got worse for the Rebels, who lost their fourth straight game and have yet to win a game on the road this season.
For the 15th time this season, the Cats held an opponent to single digits in a quarter, allowing Ole Miss to score just six points.
“For us to just jump out on a very tough Ole Miss team like that, I’m just very proud of what our team did tonight,” Epps said.
Kentucky closed out the first half with an 18-2 run, shooting 56.8 percent from the field while holding the Rebels to 26.9 percent shooting in the first half, including just 18.2 percent in the second quarter.
Part of that big run was two Maci Morris three-pointers. The sophomore guard made a season-high five of them on her way to scoring 17 points and grabbing five rebounds.
After hitting just eight in the Cats’ first six Southeastern Conference games of the season, Morris has made nine three-pointers in the last two games.
Kentucky (15-6, 6-2 SEC) had contributions all around, including Taylor Murray, who had eight points, eight assists, five rebounds and four steals in the victory.
Alyssa Rice pitched in seven points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Off the short bench, Jaida Roper added seven points and five assists.
“They come in every day with their lunch pail and their hard hat on and whatever other blue collar adjective you want to use and go work,” Mitchell said of his team, which goes back out on the road on Monday night to face Missouri.
Ole Miss (13-8, 2-6) was led by Bree Gibson’s 15 points and Madinah Muhammad’s 13 points and four assists.
The Rebels, who were handed their worst loss of the season, were outrebounded 38-23 and were outscored on fast-break points 12-0 and second-chance points 14-3.
All hustle plays, Insell reminded.
“I’ve never had a team not play hard,” the Ole Miss coach said. “That’s the frustrating thing. Kentucky’s kids played a lot more motivated than us and a lot harder than us.”
▪ Jessica Hardin, who has sat out eight games after a head injury, was back in uniform and went through pregame warm-ups. She did not play, but on Wednesday Mitchell didn’t rule her return coming as early as Monday at Missouri.
▪ Cann was listed as day to day with the flu, but a Kentucky team spokesman said it was likely she would be able to travel to Missouri with the team this weekend.
▪ Kentucky’s 89 points was its most in league play this season and its second-most overall. … It was the first time the Cats have won an SEC game by more than 30 points since 2014. … UK managed 23 assists on 34 made field goals, the second time this season the team has had 20 or more assists.
Kentucky at Missouri
7 p.m. Monday (SEC Network)