Like most sports-oriented Kentucky children, Makayla Epps grew up on a constant diet of Cats-Cards.
Kentucky vs. Louisville football. UK vs. U of L basketball. Men’s hoops, women’s hoops, she embraced it all.
No one on the UK women’s basketball roster more relished the fact that, going into Sunday’s showdown between No. 17 Kentucky and No. 7 Louisville in the KFC Yum Center, the Cats had beaten the Cards five years in a row.
So it was fitting, as 40 minutes of rivalry basketball longer on intensity than artistry drew to a close, Epps had the ball in her hands, a score tied at 56, and 32.7 seconds to make a lifetime memory.
Working the clock near 8 seconds from the top of the key, Epps put her head down and drove. She got in the lane and appeared to have an open look at a 10-footer to extend the mastery of Blue over Red.
It didn’t go.
“It hurt,” Epps said afterwards. “… It’s a shot I will make nine times out of ten.”
Louisville (7-2) finally beat Kentucky (6-2) in women’s basketball Sunday, the Cardinals scoring a 69-67 overtime victory before 12,245 fans.
The Cardinals got 26 points from forward Myisha Hines-Allen — sister of UK football outside linebacker Josh Allen — and 15 from guard Asia Durr, including an OT three-pointer that put U of L ahead to stay.
“I thought it was a great, great basketball game by both teams,” Louisville Coach Jeff Walz said.
On a day when a taller, deeper, more athletic Louisville roster was pounding Kentucky on the backboards (21 offensive rebounds to eight, 17 second-chance points to four), UK came achingly close to again beating the Cards due to a gutty performance from Epps.
The 5-foot-10 guard finished with 22 points, 16 rebounds and six assists.
“She really gave it all she had,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “… She fought her tail off against bigger players.”
An Epps foul shot pulled the Cats within 50-49 with 6:05 left. The UK guard converted a conventional three-point play with 4:17 left to put the Cats up 52-50.
When an Epps hit-ahead pass led to a layup for Taylor Murray — who scored 19 of her 21 points after halftime — the Cats were up 54-50 with 3:55 left.
The “here we go again” feeling began to waft through the Yum Center.
UK still led 54-50 when Epps got free in the lane for a 12-foot runner with 2:59 left. It rimmed in, then out.
“We got very fortunate,” Walz said of that play.
Instead, Louisville’s Durr stuck a cold-blooded trey off the left wing with 1:58 left to make it 54-53. A Mariya Moore foul shot at 1:13 tied the game.
A pair of Maci Morris foul shots for UK was canceled out by a Hines-Allen layup. That left the score tied at 56, and put the ball — and the game — in the hands of Epps.
On her potential game-winner in the lane, Epps said “I went up off two-feet but, in the air, I kind of got mixed up between shooting a jumper and shooting a floater. Stuff like that happens.”
Once the game got to overtime, it strongly favored the deeper team. In this year when Kentucky has seven recruited, scholarship players, that will rarely be the Cats.
In the post-game handshake line, Walz spoke with Epps for an extended time.
“I told her I’m really impressed with how she leads her team, how she makes everyone else on that team better,” the Louisville coach said.
For Epps, a valiant loss was not the rivalry finish she craved.
“To leave as a senior 3-1 against them, I can take that,” she said. “I would (have liked) to get this one, but things happen. Maybe we’ll see (Louisville) again in the (NCAA) Tournament, who knows?”
Middle Tennessee at Kentucky
7 p.m. Friday