UK Women's Basketball

UK women remain unbeaten despite ‘uneven’ game at Middle Tennessee

Kentucky's Alexis Jennings, center, fights with Middle Tennessee's Abbey Sissom, left, and Olivia Jones, right, for the ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Kentucky's Alexis Jennings, center, fights with Middle Tennessee's Abbey Sissom, left, and Olivia Jones, right, for the ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. AP

It was a recipe for disaster for Kentucky.

A road game at an always challenging place to play sandwiched between a game against the Cats’ biggest rival three days before and then another game against a fellow top-15 team coming up.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the eighth-ranked Cats found a way to stay unbeaten, topping Middle Tennessee State 68-52 on Sunday at the Murphy Center.

“While it was uneven, we had enough energy to get the outcome we wanted,” said Coach Matthew Mitchell, whose team had the Louisville game on Thursday, two straight days of practice and the long bus ride before hitting MTSU.

For just the fifth time in school history, UK started a season 9-0. Junior Makayla Epps led the Cats with 17 points, four assists and three steals.

“Epps has got more basketball IQ than all of the rest of them put together,” Middle Tennessee Coach Rick Insell said after the loss. “Every time we made a little bit of a run, she was able to disrupt things.”

It wasn’t just Epps.

The Cats forced the Blue Raiders into a season-high 26 turnovers, which UK converted into 21 points.

“They made us do things we hadn’t been made to do in a pretty good while,” said Insell, whose team was held to 34 percent shooting. “They’re good defensively.”

Epps has got more basketball IQ than all of the rest of them put together.

Middle Tennessee Coach Rick Insell about UK’s Makayla Epps

Some miscues in the third quarter led to easy layups for Kentucky, which made 71.4 percent of its shots in that time.

“We got layups where teams in years past wouldn’t have had that much poise,” Mitchell said of UK, which shot 46.7 percent from the field. “We had some nice scores under 10 seconds in the shot clock. That takes tremendous discipline, tremendous poise.”

It’s “a sign of a good basketball team,” Insell said. “Every time we got them deep into their shot clock, they were able to hit open shots.”

Epps, who had some layups in transition and on backdoor cuts, said those points were key in a close game.

“We just got to the point where we were finding some easy baskets and that’s how we kept MTSU away from us,” she said.

In an encore after a huge performance against Louisville, Epps was able to play well again, her coach said.

“She had an exceptional game Thursday night and a lot of juice and a lot of fight in her,” Mitchell said. “I was proud she was able to bounce back today and play a real effective game. She made some really nice plays and some good defensive plays.”

All nine UK players scored. Freshmen Maci Morris and Taylor Murray had 10 points apiece. Janee Thompson added nine points and six assists.

Forward Evelyn Akhator added seven points and a game-high nine rebounds for UK, which was outrebounded 40-32.

Middle Tennessee (4-4) was led by Brea Edwards’ 15 points and six rebounds and Ty Petty’s 14 points.

But missed layups and poor free-throw shooting (11 of 21) doomed the Raiders, Insell said.

“You can’t win big games like this when you miss layups and you can’t make free throws,” he said. “Ifs and buts, candy and nuts and we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”

Neither team started with much oomph, with the Raiders grabbing a 7-5 lead before the Cats went on a 16-3 run, including 11 straight.

That helped UK take its largest lead of the first half, 22-10, before Middle Tennessee responded with a 12-4 run of its own.

“Every time we asserted ourselves with some defensive energy, we had some success,” said Mitchell, whose team was up 35-28 at the half. “Today was a bit inconsistent for us. It seemed like every time we were able to get a little separation, we relaxed.”

He couldn’t be too picky, though, considering the circumstances. This is final exams week, to be followed by a matchup against No. 13 Duke at Rupp Arena on Sunday: “This was a hard game and I’m real proud we won.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

No. 8 KENTUCKY 68,

MIDDLE TENNESSEE 52

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Thompson

31

4-11

1-2

2

6

1

9

Morris

34

4-6

1-1

4

0

3

10

Akhator

26

2-7

3-4

9

1

2

7

Epps

33

8-13

1-1

2

4

3

17

Jennings

21

3-4

0-0

3

0

3

6

Camara

21

2-6

0-0

4

1

3

4

Jakubcova

8

1-3

0-0

0

1

1

2

Murray

18

3-6

4-4

3

3

3

10

Rice

9

1-4

1-2

3

0

2

3

Totals

201

28-60

11-14

32

16

21

68

Percentages: FG .467, FT .786. Three-point Goals: 1-6, .167 (Morris 1-2, Thompson 0-4). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 7 (Jennings 3, Camara 2, Akhator, Epps). Turnovers: 14 (Akhator 4, Jennings 3, Thompson 2, Morris 2, Epps 2, Murray). Steals: 10 (Epps 3, Morris 2, Murray, Rice, Jakubcova, Thompson, Jennings). Technical fouls: None.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Johnson

20

3-7

1-2

3

3

2

8

Edwards

31

3-9

7-8

6

0

2

15

Petty

39

6-8

1-3

3

2

2

14

Reuter

31

1-7

1-4

8

3

4

3

Jones

32

4-13

1-2

5

2

1

10

Sissom

17

0-3

0-0

1

0

0

0

Lyon

17

0-1

0-0

2

1

2

0

Porter

12

1-5

0-2

2

0

3

2

Warden

1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Totals

200

18-53

11-21

40

11

16

52

Percentages: FG .340, FT .524. Three-point goals: 5-20, .250 (Edwards 2-7, Petty 1-2, Johnson 1-2, Jones 1-6, Reuter 0-1, Sissom 0-2). Team rebounds: 10. Blocked shots: 4 (Porter 2, Johnson, Petty). Turnovers: 26 (Petty 6, Jones 6, Edwards 3, Porter 3, Johnson 2, Reuter 2, Lyon). Steals: 8 (Porter 3, Petty 3, Jones, Reuter). Technical fouls: None.

Kentucky

18

17

25

8

68

Middle Tenn.

8

20

20

4

52

A—5,190. Officials—Bill Lerance, Charlie Hust, Angelica Suffren.

Next game

Duke at Kentucky

7 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network)

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