UK Women's Basketball

Kentuckians in women’s NCAA field include four Miss Basketball winners

UK's Makayla Epps encorages the fans after taking the lead late in OT against Mississippi St. at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.
UK's Makayla Epps encorages the fans after taking the lead late in OT against Mississippi St. at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.

The women’s NCAA Tournament field was announced Tuesday evening, and it includes all four of Kentucky’s most recent Miss Basketball winners.

That includes Kentucky’s Makayla Epps, who earned the honor while at Marion County in 2013, followed by Western Kentucky’s Ivy Brown (LaRue County), UK’s Maci Morris (Bell County) and Notre Dame’s Erin Boley (Elizabethtown).

The Bluegrass state’s NCAA firepower doesn’t stop there. Whitney Creech, who broke the state’s all-time scoring record last season at Jenkins, also plays for WKU, along with former Perry County Central star Kendall Noble, last year’s Conference USA player of the year.

And Duke’s Rebecca Greenwell, an Owensboro Catholic graduate, was named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference this season.

Here’s a look at all of Kentucky’s ties to the 64 teams competing for this year’s championship.

Players

Chattanooga: Junior guard Chelsey Shumpert, who starred at Paducah Tilghman, has averaged 10.9 points, 3.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds this season for the Mocs, the Southern Conference Tournament champions.

Connecticut: Sophomore forward Batouly Camara is sitting out this season after transferring from Kentucky. She averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds last season for the Cats.

Dayton: Former Ballard star JaVonna Layfield, a junior guard, averages 8.3 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Flyers. She scored 15 points with nine rebounds and four assists in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament championship game against Duquesne.

Duke: Greenwell, a junior guard, is second on the team in scoring (16.4) and first in rebounding (6.2). She has made 79 three-pointers and a 40.5 percent rate.

The Blue Devils are back in tournament after missing out for the first time since 1994 last year.

“It feels amazing,” Greenwell told the Associated Press. “I easily could have just thrown in the towel and kind of made excuses for myself and my team, but I really tried to stay positive throughout the whole process and put my frustrations and work ethic into getting better individually and as a team. It feels great that it’s paid off. We’ve had a great season so far, and we still have a lot of work left to do.”

Florida Gulf Coast: Junior guard China Dow, a former Louisville Christian standout who transferred from Middle Tennessee, averages 8.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.

Kentucky: The Cats’ roster includes six Kentuckians, led by first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection Makayla Epps. The senior guard from Marion County averages 17.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

Sophomore guard Maci Morris (Bell County) is fourth on the team with 11.7 points per game, and junior guard Makenzie Cann (Anderson County) is fifth at 5.9. Senior guard Jessica Hardin (Wayne County, Bellarmine) contributes 3.1 points.

Sophomore forward LaShae Halsel (Warren Central) has played in seven games and junior guard Rachel Potter (Pikeville) in two.

Epps will finish her career at UK on the top 10 of several career lists, including scoring, assists, made field goals and made free throws.

“Years from now when people are talking about Kentucky women’s basketball, I just hope they’ll still mention my name here and there,” she told the Herald-Leader last month.

“When I put that jersey on and there’s Kentucky on my chest, it really means something,” she said. “It’s not just about me and my dad (former Kentucky star Anthony Epps) and that little legacy we’ve got going on. It’s about I was born and raised in Kentucky, and this state really means something to me. They’ve shown me extreme mad love over my four years here.”

Louisville: Jessica Laemmle, a 5-2 freshman guard, is the lone Kentuckian on the Cardinals’ roster. The former Mercy standout has nine points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in 22 games.

Notre Dame: Boley, Kentucky’s most recent Miss Basketball winner, has averaged 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14.5 minutes as a freshman.

She scored 14 points with three rebounds and two assists in the Fighting Irish’s 84-61 defeat of Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

“Really proud of Erin Boley coming off the bench and hitting some big threes,” Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said after she was 2-for-3 in the title game.

Ohio State: Junior guard Linnae Harper, who transferred from Kentucky, has averaged 8.5 points and 5.0 rebounds since gaining eligibility at midseason.

Oklahoma: Morgan Rich, a former Allen County-Scottsville standout who transferred from Kentucky, became eligible at midseason. She has scored three points in three games.

Purdue: Nora Kiesler, a 6-6 sophomore center, starred at Assumption. She averages 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds.

South Carolina: Alexis Jennings, a junior forward, is sitting out this season after transferring from Kentucky. She averaged 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in two seasons with the Cats.

UCLA: Nicole Kornet is a Lexington native who averages 7.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Nicole’s dad, Frank, starred at Lexington Catholic and Vanderbilt and her brother, Luke, plays at Vanderbilt.

Western Kentucky: Noble, a senior who was a first-team All-Conference USA pick this season, tops a WKU roster deep with Bluegrass ties. Noble has averaged 16.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.5 steals. She was named MVP of the conference tournament.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m glad we finished it. It wasn’t easy at all, but we came together this week and we played great and got a championship.”

Brown, a junior, averages 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds, was also a first-team all-conference pick. Senior guard Micah Jones (6.9 points and 4.1 assists) starred at Green County.

Kyvin Goodin-Rogers (Marion County) and Jaycee Coe are both transfers who previously played at Kentucky. Goodin-Rogers is fourth on the team with 8.0 points per game. Coe averages 5.2.

The Toppers’ roster also includes Creech, freshman guard Malaka Frank (Franklin County), sophomore forward Dee Givens (Lafayette) and freshman forward Sarah Price (Bath County). Creech averages 4.0 points and 1.5 rebounds in 9.5 minutes per game.

It’s Western’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2014. Before then, the Toppers hadn’t been to the tournament since 2008.

“It’s kind of the expectation for our program now,” Brown told the Daily News of Bowling Green. “We’ve had a really good five years since Coach Heard has been here, so we hold ourselves to high expectations and we did it. We definitely want to win a game in the NCAA. That’s our ultimate goal.”

West Virginia: Sophomore guard Alexis Brewer, who averages 6.5 points and 2.2 rebounds, starred at Bardstown and is the daughter of former University of Louisville standout James “Boo” Brewer. She scored seven points in the Mountaineers’ upset of No. 2 Baylor in the Big 12 championship game.

Krystaline McCune, a freshman out of Manual, is redshirting this season.

Head coaches

Albany: Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, in her first season leading the America East Conference Tournament champions, spent her last three years at the University of Pikeville. She guided the Bears to two NAIA Tournament bids, including a run to the Final Four last season. Bernabei-McNamee also has ties to Eastern Kentucky as a graduate assistant (1997-98) and assistant coach (1999-2001), and she earned her Master’s degree in sports administration there in 1998.

Bernabei-McNamee is the first head coach in league history to win the title in her inaugural season. She replaced Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who transformed the Albany program into a perennial champion before leaving a year ago to coach at Central Florida.

“I couldn’t be more happy. There’s definitely a sense of relief,” Bernabei-McNamee told the Associated Press. “There’s also pride. We still felt like we were going to win, maintain what these players started.”

Belmont: Cameron Newbauer, the head coach for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament winners, was an assistant at Louisville from 2011 to 2013.

Kentucky: Matthew Mitchell, the Cats’ head coach since the 2007-08 season, previously led Morehead State for two seasons (2005-07) and was an assistant at UK from 2003 to 2005.

Louisville: Jeff Walz, a Highlands graduate, took over the Cardinals’ program in 2007. He was also an assistant at Western Kentucky for the 1997-98 season.

Purdue: Sharon Versyp started her collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Louisville for Bud Childers in 1996.

Western Kentucky: Michelle Clark-Heard is a former Atherton standout who played in college for the Lady Toppers. WKU reached the NCAA Tournament during all four of her seasons (1987-90). Before taking over at her alma mater in 2011, Clark-Heard was an assistant at Louisville for five seasons. She was the head coach at Kentucky State for two seasons (2005-07).

Dennis Varney: 859-231-3514, @ExCats

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