UK Women's Basketball

Rout of Oklahoma propels UK women to Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena

Kentucky forward Maci Morris (4) reacts to a foul call on Oklahoma guard Gioya Carter (25) during the first half of the second round game of the NCAA Tournament at Memorial Coliseum Monday, March 21, 2016 in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky forward Maci Morris (4) reacts to a foul call on Oklahoma guard Gioya Carter (25) during the first half of the second round game of the NCAA Tournament at Memorial Coliseum Monday, March 21, 2016 in Lexington, Ky.

After a long season of twists and turns, Kentucky’s season will continue with a short, direct trip downtown.

With a 79-58 win over Oklahoma on Monday night at Memorial Coliseum, the Cats advanced to the Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena later this week.

“I don’t even think you dream of stuff like that because it seems so out of the (realm) of possibility,” said junior guard Makayla Epps, who had to fight through an injury to her shooting shoulder to get the Cats there. “Being from Kentucky and having a chance to play an Elite Eight game at Rupp Arena, that’s a dream come true.”

The No. 3-seeded Cats will take on seventh-seeded Washington (24-10) at 7 p.m. Friday at Rupp, where they have won two games over ranked teams this season. Washington advanced by knocking off No. 2 seed Maryland 74-65 on Monday.

But first, the Cats (25-7) had to dispatch a tough, physical Oklahoma team. The Sooners reduced an 11-point deficit to two points twice in the third quarter after Epps went out.

The rest of Kentucky’s players fought back. First, Evelyn Akhator made a shot in the lane. Then Epps returned in time to rebound Akhator’s missed free-throw to set up a Janee Thompson shot in the lane.

Then Epps, who later said she had a sprained AC joint in her right shoulder, hit an improbable three-pointer from the right corner. That was directly followed by a Thompson three-pointer.

“I looked up and it was 42-40 with an eternity to play, so I couldn’t do that to them,” Epps said of potentially missing the rest of the game with the injury. “I had to get back out there.”

Thompson, who scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half, took over from there, putting her head down and driving the lane to get to the free-throw line, where she made seven of eight.

“She’s a veteran,” said Epps, who added 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists for UK, which has won 10 of its last 11 games. “That’s what she does. Smallest player, biggest heart.”

Five UK players finished in double digits, including Maci Morris, who carried the Cats’ offense in the first half with 12 points, making four of five three-pointers.

Alexis Jennings pitched in 13 points and eight rebounds for UK, which outrebounded the Sooners 41-40. The junior’s six blocked shots were a new NCAA Tournament record for a UK player. Akhator had 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.

After that scoring spree, the Cats’ defense took over, holding the Sooners to 17.6 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and just 27.3 percent for the game.

“Six weeks ago we did not approach being a good defensive team. In fact, we were a bad defensive team with no identity,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said.

The team did defensive drills and worked to get better.

“We were really tough tonight,” he said. “I thought we made it tough on Oklahoma at times to score, and then I thought our tenacity and our pace had an influence in the fourth quarter.”

Kentucky’s defense was strong, Thompson said.

“If we play defense like that and continue to get better, we’re hard to beat,” she said.

It wasn’t a great first half for Kentucky’s stars, with Epps and Thompson going a combined 1-for-11. But the Cats’ role players did more than their share, helping UK take a 35-27 lead into the half.

“We are a true team,” Mitchell said. “We play for each other. They’re not overly concerned about who gets the credit. They just want each other to be successful. And it’s a really fun, beautiful thing to be a part of right now.”

In a physical game, both teams combined to miss 14 of 16 shots at the end of the first half. Neither team shot better than 19 percent in the second quarter.

Oklahoma guard Gioya Carter, who had 12 points, said UK’s physical play was a factor in the game.

“They were relentless on the boards, offense and defense,” she said. “They weren’t letting us get clear lanes to the basket. They were just very physical all the way around.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

KENTUCKY 79,

OKLAHOMA 58

OKLAHOMA

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Little

33

3-8

2-2

2

2

3

10

Ortiz

34

1-9

0-0

5

2

3

2

Manning

28

1-10

7-8

7

5

4

9

Carter

25

4-15

3-4

3

1

4

12

K Williams

18

4-10

1-1

9

1

3

9

Pierre-Louis

24

2-9

3-4

9

0

2

7

Edwards

6

0-0

0-0

0

0

2

0

Wyatt

26

3-4

0-0

1

0

3

9

Kellogg

7

0-1

0-0

1

0

2

0

L Williams

0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Totals

201

18-66

16-19

40

11

26

58

Percentages: FG .273, FT .842.

Three-point goals: 6-22, .273 (Wyatt 3-4, Little 2-5, Carter 1-6, Kellogg 0-1, Manning 0-3, Ortiz 0-3).

Team rebounds: 3.

Blocked shots: 5 (Pierre-Louis 3, K. Williams, Kellogg).

Turnovers: 13 (K. Williams 4, Manning 2, Ortiz 2, Edwards 2, Pierre-Louis, Carter).

Steals: 4 (Manning 2, Little, K. Williams).

Technical Fouls: Williams.

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Camara

15

2-4

1-2

4

0

4

5

Thompson

38

4-14

7-8

3

4

2

16

Morris

18

4-6

0-0

1

0

3

12

Akhator

22

5-10

1-3

4

3

3

11

Epps

34

1-6

10-14

7

4

1

13

Murray

27

2-4

2-2

5

1

1

6

Jennings

33

4-12

5-5

8

0

0

13

Rice

12

0-2

3-4

4

0

3

3

Totals

199

22-58

29-38

41

12

17

79

Percentages: FG .379, FT .763.

Three-point goals: 6-13, .462 (Morris 4-5, Epps 1-3, Thompson 1-5).

Team rebounds: 5.

Blocked shots: 8 (Jennings 6, Camara, Rice).

Turnovers: 10 (Jennings 3, Epps 2, Morris 2, Thompson 2, Rice).

Steals: 3 (Jennings, Murray, Camara).

Oklahoma

19

8

19

12

58

Kentucky

20

15

21

23

79

A—3,056. Officials—TINA NAPIER, TIM DALEY, ANGELICA SUFFREN.

This weekend

NCAA Tournament Lexington Regional in Rupp Arena

Friday’s semifinals: Kentucky vs. Washington, 7 p.m.; Notre Dame vs. Stanford, 9:30 p.m.

Sunday’s finals: Semifinal winners meet with trip to Final Four in Indianapolis at stake, 1 p.m.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

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