UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky women’s basketball hits point guard trifecta

Kentucky senior Janee Thompson (3) stole the ball from Morehead State’s Natalie Greenwell. Thompson and fellow guard Makayla Epps are starting and playing most of the game on the floor together.
Kentucky senior Janee Thompson (3) stole the ball from Morehead State’s Natalie Greenwell. Thompson and fellow guard Makayla Epps are starting and playing most of the game on the floor together. Herald-Leader

What looked like a point of contention to start the season could turn into a point of strength for Kentucky this season.

A year ago, Makayla Epps took over the starting point guard spot when starter Janee Thompson went down with a broken leg at South Carolina.

While Thompson was out, Epps shined, earning First Team All-Southeastern Conference honors.

Coach Matthew Mitchell was asked several times in preseason interviews what he planned to do at the point guard position with both of them back this season.

“We’ll figure that out,” he said in October. “If Janee Thompson and Makayla Epps are on the floor at the same time, I think that’s good for Kentucky.”

Turns out not just two, but three point guards is better than one for No. 13 Kentucky, which hosts Colorado (2-0) on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum.

Not only are Epps and Thompson starting and playing most of the game on the floor together, they’re often sharing the ball with true freshman point guard Taylor Murray.

“I love it,” Thompson said. “I absolutely love playing with the two of them.”

Ditto for Epps.

“I love being on the court with them two at the same time,” the junior said. “We’ve all got the same mentality and style of play.”

Kentucky seems to love it, too, with the Cats managing 32 assists on 43 made baskets in their last game. That number was just one off the school record set in 1983.

I love being on the court with them two at the same time. We’ve all got the same mentality and style of play.

Kentucky’s Makayla Epps on fellow guards Janee Thompson and Taylor Murray

The Cats (3-0) are tied for most assists in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 19 a game. Thompson leads the league in assists with 6.3 a game to go with her 12 points.

Epps, who isn’t included in the SEC stats yet because she hasn’t played in 75 percent of the team’s games, is even better than Thompson with 7.5 assists a game.

All three point guards are averaging double-digit points, too. Murray, who comes off the UK bench, averages 3.7 assists a game.

When the trio is in the game together, Epps and Thompson have been deferring to Murray in halfcourt sets with Thompson playing shooting guard and Epps playing on the wing.

“She’s a freshman and we want her to get reps at it,” Epps explained of the arrangement. “She hasn’t really gotten many reps at the two or three spot, so we let Taylor control the one.”

In fast-break situations, having three point guards on the floor makes Kentucky lethal.

“It’s pretty much whoever gets the ball that pushes it,” Thompson said. “It’s really great because all three of us can create for other teammates and we can create our own shots.”

It’s led to loads of easy baskets for Kentucky so far this season, coming in the form of quick outlet passes for easy layups.

“Last year I had to push the ball up the court every time and that’s really tiring,” Epps said. “This year I can push it two or three trips. Janee can push it two or three trips. And then Taylor can push it two or three trips.

“I feel like that’s going to keep (opponents) off balance because they could be trying to deny me on the outlet, and then Taylor gets the ball and they’re offset.”

More than 58 percent of Kentucky’s made baskets this season are assisted, compared to 40.9 percent last season.

Distributing responsibilities has taken a load off all three, said Thompson, who is averaging 12 points and 3.3 rebounds as well.

The versatility and depth at the point guard spot was evident in the fourth quarter against Morehead State on Wednesday night, when Epps was able to penetrate, collapse the defense and then pitch it back out to Thompson.

The senior, who hit three straight three-pointers in the final period, found her groove. Two of her makes were off passes from Murray and one from Epps. Thompson made four from long range in that game after making just nine all last season. She’s never made more than 15 in a season.

Having the threesome on the court at the same time has been a big boost so far, the head coach said.

“All three of them have different gifts that they bring to the point guard position,” Mitchell said. “It’s a real luxury to have, and they’re all three really good players and are going to have really good seasons.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Sunday

Colorado at Kentucky

2 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

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