UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky holds off Tennessee charge, wins 64-63

All week Kentucky’s coach preached fundamentals.

Maybe Matthew Mitchell should’ve been preaching just the first three letters of that word instead.

The No. 12 Cats trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half and by seven points at halftime. Against a bigger, quicker Tennessee team, UK missed 15 of its final 18 shots going into the locker room.

And while adjustments were made, it ultimately came down to Kentucky finding a way to have a good time.

“He told us to go out there and have fun, and we started having a lot of fun,” Makayla Epps, flashing a smile after the crazy 64-63 win at Memorial Coliseum on Monday night. “A lot of fun.”

After scoring six points in the first half, Epps scored 14 of the Cats’ first 17 points of the third quarter.

“Coach told me to have fun, so I started having fun — and when I start having fun, that’s when I get going,” said Epps, who led all scorers with 23 points.

It was a sight to see, fellow guard Janee Thompson said.

“She gets really pumped, and the energy she has really fuels our team and we all feed off of that,” said Thompson, who scored 15 points and added six assists and three steals despite playing on a sore ankle.

“It’s good to see her go off like that. She’s a really good player, and when she has the confidence to realize that she can just be unstoppable sometimes. It’s something to watch.”

Kentucky’s changing defenses did their part, too, in that quarter, holding the Lady Vols to 18.2 percent shooting and nine points after they shot 54.2 percent in the first half.

“It’s very frustrating,” said UT’s Mercedes Russell, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. “We definitely lost it in the third quarter. … That’s where we really lost it. We came out with no intensity in the third quarter and we just let Epps do what she wanted.”

The Vols were plagued by turnovers, coughing the ball up 21 times, which UK turned into 18 points. Point guard Diamond DeShields had eight of those miscues to go with her 13 points.

Tennessee found itself and remembered its press in the fourth quarter, forcing Kentucky into five of its 10 turnovers in that final 10 minutes. Twice late, the Lady Vols pulled within a point, but missed the tying free throw.

“The last minute of the game was crazy, so much back and forth,” Thompson said. “Both teams were just giving each other the ball at one point.”

Andraya Carter missed an off-balance layup with 10.8 seconds left that could have put the Volunteers back up after they fell behind by as many as 10 points, but it missed badly.

Kentucky, which came into the game a perfect 12-for-12 in late-game free throw situations, went 1-for-4 in the final minute, and left the door open multiple times for the Lady Vols (12-7, 3-3 Southeastern Conference).

But Te’a Cooper, who led Tennessee with 18 points, didn’t get her shot off in time and the Cats’ celebration ensued.

“We had great looks,” Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick said. “I thought we were going to win the basketball game. I felt good about it, actually. I felt really good about it.”

The Tennessee pressure did not have Kentucky feeling — or looking — so good.

“When they turned that heat up, it was tough,” said Mitchell, whose team practiced against seven practice players to prepare for the Tennessee press. “We were up 10 and it evaporated like that.

“No question we were feeling that and we had to go through it. We just had to go through it and we’ll get out on the other side and we’ll be a good team hopefully.”

The Cats got a lift from Batouly Camara, who had eight points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots in her first start. Fellow forward Evelyn Akhator added nine points and seven rebounds for UK, which outscored Tennessee in the paint 34-16.

And after a rash of turnovers to open league play, Mitchell was happy to see just 10 for the Cats on the final stat sheet.

“Only 10 turnovers is a miracle for us right now,” he said. “If you don’t believe in God, you need to check that out. It’s like he’s walking on water right there with just 10 turnovers.”

Win or lose, Kentucky (15-3, 4-3) needs to grow from the game, its coach said.

“It’s like I told them in the locker room, if Tennessee had made that layup and won by one, we would have felt really bad, but we have been in the same boat,” he said. “We get to come back and practice really hard tomorrow.”

No. 12 KENTUCKY 64, No. 19 TENNESSEE 63

TENNESSEE

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

DeShields

32

5-15

2-2

4

2

2

13

Graves

33

2-5

1-2

12

2

1

5

Carter

28

0-2

1-2

3

2

4

1

Russell

30

4-9

4-5

10

0

2

12

Nared

19

1-6

2-2

6

1

2

5

Reynolds

23

4-6

0-0

3

2

2

9

Moore

3

0-1

0-0

0

0

0

0

Cooper

27

7-11

1-2

1

3

3

18

Middleton

5

0-0

0-0

0

1

0

0

Totals

200

23-55

11-15

41

13

16

63

Percentages: FG .418, FT .733. 3-Point Goals: 6-12, .500 (Cooper 3-4, Reynolds 1-1, Nared 1-1, DeShields 1-5, Carter 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (DeShields 2, Russell, Carter). Turnovers: 21 (DeShields 8, Cooper 3, Graves 2, Reynolds 2, Russell 2, Moore, Middleton, Carter). Steals: 5 (Carter 2, Reynolds 2, Cooper). Technical Fouls: None.

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Camara

25

4-11

0-2

9

0

4

8

Morris

23

0-6

0-0

1

1

2

0

Akhator

27

4-10

1-1

7

1

5

9

Epps

39

8-20

5-7

2

1

0

23

Rice

11

0-0

0-0

2

0

0

0

Jakubcova

7

0-1

0-0

1

0

0

0

Thompson

30

5-13

4-6

3

6

1

15

Murray

17

2-4

0-0

0

1

2

5

Jennings

21

2-4

0-0

6

0

3

4

Totals

200

25-69

10-16

38

10

17

64

Percentages: FG .362, FT .625. 3-Point Goals: 4-10, .400 (Epps 2-3, Thompson 1-2, Murray 1-3, Morris 0-2). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 5 (Akhator 2, Camara 2, Epps). Turnovers: 10 (Thompson 3, Camara 2, Morris, Akhator, Jakubcova, Epps, Jennings). Steals: 7 (Thompson 3, Murray 2, Akhator, Jennings). Technical Fouls: None.

Tennessee

19

16

9

19

63

Kentucky

18

10

21

15

64

A—6,188. Officials—Dee Kantner, Michael Price, Bryan Enterline.

Next game

Vanderbilt at Kentucky

7 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network Plus)

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