How Kentucky (25-7) and Washington (24-10) match up at every position for Friday night’s women’s NCAA Tournament round-of-16 contest in Rupp Arena — with a game prediction:
After shooting 3-for-9 from three-point range in the SEC Tournament, Kentucky’s Maci Morris (8.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg) lit up the NCAA tourney, making seven of eight treys over two games. In UK’s two regular-season games in Rupp Arena, the 6-foot freshman from Bell County shot so-so — 7-of-18 field goals, 3-of-7 three-pointers — in the Wildcats’ victories over Louisville and Duke. With paint scoring apt to be a challenge against Washington’s length and 2-3 zone, UK needs Morris to be “on” from the outside in Rupp.
Washington’s Talia Walton (15.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, team-best 72 steals) hit the dagger trey with 1:25 left that secured the No. 7-seed Huskies upset victory at No. 2 Maryland. The 6-2, redshirt senior from Federal Way, Wash., had 20 points and three steals in the win over the Terrapins. She is the sixth all-time career scorer (1,748 points) at Washington, the fifth all-time rebounder (895) and is the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots (172).
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UK freshman Batouly Camara (5.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) has started 12 straight games. The 6-2 New York City product had five points and 11 rebounds in the Cats’ NCAA tourney-opening blowout of North Carolina-Asheville. Against Oklahoma in the round of 32, Camara also scored five points, all in the first quarter. Camara shot well in the SEC Tournament, hitting 10 of 15 shots.
Washington’s Chantel Osahor is one of the unique players in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-2 junior is a force on the boards. She had nine points, 15 rebounds and four steals in the upset victory at Maryland. In the Pac-12 Tournament, Osahor had 18 rebounds against Colorado and 16 boards in an upset win over No. 11 Stanford. For the season, the Phoenix, Ariz., product is almost averaging a double-double —9.6 ppg and 10.8 rpg. Yet Osahor is also something of a “point forward,” averaging 3.4 assists.
Due to foul trouble, Kentucky’s Evelyn Akhator played only 22 minutes against Oklahoma. Against Washington’s big front line, UK will need Akhator (11.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg) to stay on the floor. The 6-3 junior-college transfer from Lagos, Nigeria, leads Kentucky in blocked shots (32) and is a charge-drawing machine in the lane.
Washington’s Katie Collier (6.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is one of the inspirational figures in the NCAA Tournament. She is a cancer survivor, having returned to basketball after doctors told her five years ago that leukemia would end her career. The 6-3 redshirt junior also came back from a major knee injury. Collier leads Washington with 35 blocked shots.
A McDonald’s All-America point guard when she signed with Kentucky, Janee Thompson (12.7 ppg, 40.4 percent three-point shooting) has morphed as a senior into a lethal, off-the-ball scorer. After a 1-for-9 start against Oklahoma, the 5-7 Chicago product came up big for UK in the game’s decisive stretch, scoring 11 points and assisting on a bucket as Kentucky turned a 46-44 lead into a 62-49 advantage. She also became a 1,000-point career scorer (1,013 now) vs. the Sooners. In Kentucky’s prior two games in Rupp this season, Thompson went 5-for-9 on three-point shots.
Simply put, Washington’s Kelsey Plum (26.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4 assists) is one of the best players in the country. The 5-8 junior from Poway, Calif., dropped 32 points on Maryland. With a year of eligibility remaining, Plum is already Washington’s all-time leading scorer (2,352 points). It is vital for Kentucky to try to keep Plum from getting to the foul line. In the NCAA Tournament, Plum is shooting only 17-for-49 from the field but is 18-for-20 on free throws. She is the most accurate free-throw shooter (88 percent career) in Huskies history.
After suffering a right shoulder injury while being fouled on a drive to the basket against Oklahoma, Kentucky’s Makayla Epps returned to inspire the Wildcats. A two-time First Team All-SEC selection, the 5-10 junior from Marion County is Kentucky’s leading scorer (16.6 ppg) and the player the Cats go to in tight games. Obviously, it is vital for UK’s Final Four aspirations that Epps’ shoulder be sound. Epps loves playing in Rupp Arena — in two games there this year, she’s 14-for-18 from the floor.
Washington senior Alexus Atchley (4.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.2 assists) moved into the starting lineup after Brianna Ruiz (5.6 ppg) tore an ACL in January. A former walk-on, the 5-9 Atchley hit two big three-pointers late in Washington’s NCAA tourney-opening victory over Pennsylvania.
Kentucky’s Alexis Jennings (10 ppg, 7 rpg) was strong against Oklahoma’s big front line. The 6-2 sophomore from Madison, Ala., had 13 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. After a stress reaction in her right foot slowed Alyssa Rice’s development as a sophomore, the 6-3 Reynoldsburg, Ohio, product has come on late, averaging 5.6 ppg in UK’s five postseason tournament games. Freshman point guard Taylor Murray (7.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 assists) hit a big shot for Kentucky against Oklahoma after the Sooners had pulled within two late in the third quarter.
Washington uses its reserves sparingly, as evidenced by the fact Kelsey Plum leads the nation in minutes played (38.1 a game) and Telia Walton (36.7) is fourth. Top backup Mathilda Gilling, a 6-3 senior from Denmark, gave the Huskies a boost with six points and five rebounds in the upset of Maryland — but left the game with a knee injury. Huskies Coach Mike Neighbors said Thursday Gilling did not tear an ACL, but it was unclear if she’d be able to play Friday. If she can’t go, sophomore guard Kelli Kingma (1.4 ppg in 24 contests) could be the first reserve off the bench — or Washington might not use any subs.
Making its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001, Washington is playing with house money. Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell is trying to lead UK into the Elite Eight for the fourth time in the past seven seasons. Playing in Lexington, UK has the hometown advantage, but how big a boost will that be? Attendance at UK’s first two NCAA Tournament games in Memorial Coliseum was disappointing (2,701 for UNC-Asheville, 3,056 vs. Oklahoma). With the Kentucky men already out of the Big Dance, will the Big Blue Nation rally around UK Hoops?
Kentucky 65, Washington 62