Most people dread Mondays.
Angela Mattingly dreaded them much more than most.
Monday was the night that she lost control of her house, when her children Makayla, Jaren and Jamison Epps would go wild while watching professional wrestling on television.
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“They’d jump off the couch onto one another. There were headlocks. It was crazy,” she said. “I had to cut Monday night wrestling out. They were not allowed to watch it.”
So while Kentucky fans watched in equal parts horror and awe as Epps came back on the court in the NCAA Tournament second round from a tumble that rendered her shooting arm useless for nearly a quarter, her mom has gotten used to it.
Makayla Epps is averaging 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this season.
“When she went back in the game — which was her choice — she goes out there and cannot even move it,” Mattingly said of the injury, which later was announced as a sprained AC joint in Epps’ right shoulder.
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘What in the crap are you doing? You can’t even move your arm!’”
Mattingly has no doubt that Epps will be on the Rupp Arena floor Friday night in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 against Washington. For the past 20 years, she’s seen her daughter take hit after hit and run back in for more.
“That child has such a love for the game and such a determination to win that if somebody would let her, if her leg was hanging on by one tissue or ligament or whatever, she’d still be trying to play,” Mattingly said. “That’s just the way she is.”
Epps has been practicing lightly since the shoulder injury Monday. During Thursday’s pregame prep in Rupp Arena, the junior guard and UK’s leading scorer winced at times making long passes with her right arm or taking a shot.
But she’ll probably receive another Lidocaine shot to get her through the game Friday night. She’s going to play, Epps said. “Nothing’s going to keep me from playing.”
It wasn’t just the wrestling. Epps grew up in a Lebanon neighborhood stocked almost exclusively with boys a couple of years older than her.
“They’d put on boxing gloves and invite me to the boxing party,” she said. “I was getting punched by boys two or three years older than me, but I didn’t care. I hit them just as hard as they’d hit me.”
There was “tackle football with no gear, throwing rocks, running on rocks with bare feet,” she said, rattling them off. “Just a bunch of stuff that’s made me tough over the years.”
But where Epps got toughest was on the outdoor basketball courts playing with those same boys.
County kids, we like to be outside, go mudding, fishing. Some people won’t touch a fishing hook with the worm. Some people won’t go get in the mud. Me and (teammate) Maci (Morris) live for that.
“It’s street ball,” Mattingly said. “They’re rough. Fouls aren’t called.”
Epps would get pushed around a little bit, get her feelings hurt and then come home. The pouting would go on for about 15 minutes before apologies were issued and Epps was back out on the court again.
She couldn’t stay away.
Mattingly never worried too much about her tomboy with the bigger boys.
“They obviously pushed her to see how much she could handle,” Mattingly said. “They were good kids, though. They wouldn’t intentionally hurt her.”
Those boys helped make Epps tough, which shows on the floor, her teammates said.
“Epps is a county kid; I know she’s tough,” freshman guard Maci Morris said Monday after Epps’ injury and subsequent heroics. “So she got back out there and she did what she had to do.”
As Morris walked out of the news conference Monday night, Coach Matthew Mitchell grabbed her arm and told the former Bell County star that she was “county tough, too.”
What does that mean exactly?
“County tough is when you get hurt, you get back up,” Morris explained Thursday. “Spit and rub some dirt in it, and it’ll be OK.
“It’s part of us just growing up in Kentucky and being a county kid. … It puts a little chip on your shoulder, makes you a little tougher.”
Epps and Morris frequently joke about with their “city” teammates from Chicago, Baltimore and New York.
“County kids are tougher than city kids,” said Epps, who always has enough ice on her body to keep penguins comfortable after games. “They keep arguing, but we believe it.”
For Epps, who seems to be at her best in the biggest games, it’s all about not being scared to do anything.
“County kids, we like to be outside, go mudding, fishing,” said Epps, who is averaging a team-best 16.6 points a game with 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists. “Some people won’t touch a fishing hook with the worm. Some people won’t go get in the mud. Me and Maci live for that.”
And they — with their city-fied teammates — have had to be tough all season. There have been the departures and defections, losing four teammates in a six-week span early in the season.
There’s senior Janee Thompson, who returned from a surgically repaired broken leg suffered at South Carolina last season. The guard has battled through two bad ankle sprains in the same leg, not missing a game all season.
There’s center Evelyn Akhator, who was 18 when she lost her mother and moved a continent away to play basketball.
Kentucky (25-7) has story after story of fortitude.
“We’re a tough team,” Thompson said. “As far as tenacity and resilience goes, I think we have those qualities, and I think they’ve come because of some of the adversity that we’ve gotten through during the season.”
The Cats are going to need all of that toughness against Washington (24-10), a team that upset No. 2 seed Maryland, with its four seniors and two straight Final Four appearances, on the Terrapins’ home floor on Monday.
“You’re going to have to be tougher than them, and that’s something that I tell our players all the time,” Kentucky’s coach said of facing the Huskies. “You’re in control of that. You have a choice to be the tougher team, and it’s a tall task to be tougher than Washington. They’re very, very tough.”
It’s going to be quite the wrestling match.
Washington at Kentucky
What: NCAA Tournament Lexington Regional semifinal
Where: Rupp Arena
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: No. 7 seed Washington, 24-10; No. 3 seed Kentucky, 25-7
Series: Washington leads 1-0
Last meeting: Washington won 67-57 on Jan. 7, 2008, in Lexington.