Mitchell says Akhator put on real display of skill
When Evelyn Akhator makes a promise, she keeps it.
Knowing this, Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell is quick to remind his senior forward of a little promise she made to him in a meeting earlier this week.
“I promised him I would always bring the energy no matter what happens in the game,” Akhator said. “And just to be positive. That was my promise.”
She has kept that vow so far, following up a career night at Alabama on Thursday with a huge performance in Kentucky’s 82-61 victory over visiting Georgia on Sunday.
The senior was all over the floor, recording her 10th double-double of the season and the 23rd of her short career with 24 points and 16 rebounds to go with two blocked shots and two stealsin 30 minutes.
She was dominant in the first quarter, helping Kentucky to a 23-4 early lead from which the Bulldogs never recovered. Akhator, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds over Georgia last season, had 10 points and five rebounds after one quarter on Sunday.
“She put on a real display of skill,” Mitchell said. “She had some good reads today. She made some great shots. Then you have to credit her teammates, who really worked to get her the ball.”
As teammate Makenzie Cann pointed out, the double teams that quickly collapsed on Akhator later in the game helped get them the ball, too.
“It’s great as a team and especially for a shooter when they have to send four people on her,” Cann said. “It’s a lot easier for us. I don’t complain about it.”
Cann was one of four UK players to finish in double figures with 11 points off the bench, including three three-pointers. Guard Taylor Murray added 14 points and senior Makayla Epps 13 points and six assists.
“It’s definitely big for our confidence,” Cann said of Kentucky, which shot 51.7 percent from the field and never trailed, leading by as many as 32 points early in the third quarter.
“We wanted to come together and we wanted to win. We didn’t want to fall back any. We were motivated in practice and that’s where we got a lot of our confidence, and the game’s where we got to show it.”
Kentucky (12-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like a confident bunch early, shooting 57.1 percent from the field in the first quarter and holding the Bulldogs to 14.3 percent shooting.
“We’ve gotten off to slow starts and we’ve been able to rebound from that, and tonight we didn’t,” said Coach Joni Taylor of Georgia, which trailed 44-14 at the break and didn’t score for nearly four minutes to close out the half.
It was UGA’s fewest points scored in a half this season.
The Bulldogs, who did bounce back in the second half, shooting 76.9 percent in the third quarter, didn’t handle a close loss on the road to South Carolina a few days ago, the coach said.
“We didn’t have an answer for them in the first half,” she said. “Kentucky’s really good and they were clicking on all cylinders today, but for this team, our next step was to handle a loss and play and compete and be locked into the game plan, and we didn’t do that.”
Georgia (10-8, 2-3) was paced by Pachis Roberts’s 20 points and six rebounds. Shanea Armbrister added 13 points and five boards for the Bulldogs, who were outrebounded 38-28 and outscored on second chance points 16-4.
Seven different UK players finished with six or more points in the victory, including Jaida Roper, who had seven points and four assists off the UK bench. Maci Morris added seven points and five rebounds.
Kentucky’s coach was pleased to see his team play well on both ends of the floor and win its third in a row over the Bulldogs, whom they play again in Athens on Feb. 9.
“We got better this week,” he said noting that there was much disappointment and unhappiness after letting one slip away against Texas A&M here a week ago. “The kids worked hard. We’re committed to getting better defensively. We really took a step forward there. I’m proud of them.”
News and notes
▪ Epps was hit in the head late in the game going up for a shot and was held out the rest of the way. The senior did not attend the post-game news conference.
A team spokesman said Epps was being evaluated by medical staff after the game, but she’s expected to be fine.
▪ Jessica Hardin, Kentucky’s reserve guard who has missed five straight games working through the concussion protocol, was back on the UK bench for the Georgia game. No word on her return yet, though.
▪ Kentucky is on the road for three of its next four games, including two in a row at Louisiana State on Thursday and at Auburn on Sunday.
Kentucky at LSU
8 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network Plus)