Epps wants season to keep going
Ten, nine, eight, seven, six …
The seconds click down on the scoreboard clock quietly during a game.
But the sound of the ticking clock in Makayla Epps’ head is intense.
The seconds sound like a crowd in Memorial Coliseum, like the one she heard on Senior Night just a few weeks ago.
The 2013 Miss Basketball can’t help but measure her last few minutes — however many there are left at Kentucky — in the ticks on the scoreboard clock.
When UK was struggling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday against Belmont, Epps urgently reminded her Cats teammates at halftime that they might only have 20 minutes left in their season.
Just 20 more minutes promised in her storied Kentucky career.
“I just have a mentality that I don’t want my season to come to an end, ever, if that was possible,” Epps said Saturday as No. 18 Kentucky (22-10) prepared for its battle with No. 11 Ohio State (27-6) in the second round of the tournament in Memorial Coliseum.
“I’m going to do whatever I have to do,” she said.
In the past two games, that’s been taking over as a scorer. First, scoring a season-high 31 points against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference semifinals.
Epps repeated the 30-plus points feat again Friday against Belmont, hitting a personal best five three-pointers. She became the first UK player since Sara Potts in 2005 to score 30 or more points in back-to-back games.
The senior guard from Marion County has scored in double figures in 13 straight games and in 29 of Kentucky’s 32 games this season.
I’m just trying to score, and if I have to score 30 points for us to win and advance then that’s what I’ll do. But if I don’t score a basket and I have to go get 10 rebounds, then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll just do everything I can to make sure Kentucky gets the win at the end of the day.
“I’m still looking to be a facilitator, still looking to pass, but if I have an open shot, I feel like I have to take it,” said Epps, who needs just 28 more points to move up to No. 4 on UK’s all-time scoring list and top Leslie Nichols’ 1,797 points.
“I’m just trying to score, and if I have to score 30 points for us to win and advance then that’s what I’ll do. But if I don’t score a basket and I have to go get 10 rebounds then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll just do everything I can to make sure Kentucky gets the win at the end of the day.”
As Epps sat on the stage on Saturday morning talking about doing what she had to do to win, Coach Matthew Mitchell sat silently next to her with a knowing smile.
“I was just thinking of all of her improvement over her four years, and that’s her mentality,” UK’s coach said of Epps, who also leads the team in assists with 112. “She wants to do whatever she can to help Kentucky win, and that’s just a real team-first attitude. That’s what brought a smile to my face.”
Another thing that brought a smile to Mitchell’s face was Epps’ aggressiveness in the Belmont game.
“She’s not shying away from the moment,” Mitchell said. “She’s had a lot of big games for us and I feel like she will, in some shape, form or fashion, will need to have a big game for us to win tomorrow.
“I don’t know what that means statistically, but I do know that she will be very important for us to move on tomorrow.”
There’s a sense of urgency for Epps and fellow senior Evelyn Akhator. They have combined to score 107 of Kentucky’s 150 points in the last two games.
“For it to be their last game as a Kentucky basketball player means a lot to them,” UK junior Alyssa Rice said. “You can tell how much this program means to them. That rolls over to the rest of the team, too, to be able to give them one more game at a time because they mean a lot to us.”
It’s hard to ignore what Epps has been doing at the end of the season, Buckeyes Coach Kevin McGuff said.
“Epps is playing great,” he said. “She’s playing fantastic basketball right now.”
The senior’s ability to manage a game has impressed him most.
“She kind of has a knack where she knows when to speed it up, she knows when to slow it down, she makes sure everyone is in the right position,” he said. “She’s displaying great leadership. She’s playing really, really well right now.
“We’re not going to stop her, but we hopefully can slow her down a little bit and not let her go crazy.”
But crazy would be fine with Epps.
Crazy might mean she gets 40 more minutes.
Kentucky vs. Ohio State
What: NCAA Tournament Lexington Regional second-round game
Where: Memorial Coliseum
Radio: WLKT-FM 103.9
Records: No. 4 seed Kentucky 22-10, No. 5 seed Ohio State 27-6
Series: Ohio State leads 13-9
Last meeting: Ohio State won 53-51 on Jan. 6, 2007, in Columbus, Ohio.