Jen Smith on Basketball

Newcomers push UK to 72-39 victory in season opener

With injuries and suspensions limiting Kentucky’s available personnel in its season opener, the Cats were going to rely on newcomers.

And the newcomers didn’t disappoint in No. 17 UK’s 72-39 victory over Rice on Friday night at Memorial Coliseum.

True freshmen Maci Morris, Taylor Murray and Batouly Camara combined to score 32 points and junior college transfer Evelyn Akhator added 16 points and 17 rebounds in the victory.

The Cats were without First Team All-Southeastern Conference player Makayla Epps, who missed the game as the final piece of her suspension for an offseason issue. And UK is without forward Alyssa Rice, who is out with a foot injury.

UK did OK without them, with all eight players who played scoring, including four in double figures. The Cats shot 50 percent from the field and outrebouned the Owls 41-29.

Morris had 16 points, including making three of five three-point field goal tries. Alexis Jennings added 10 points and nine rebounds.

Kentucky held the Owls without a field goal the entire first quarter and grabbed a 19-2 lead behind eight straight points from Morris, the Miss Kentucky Basketball.

Rice missed its first 13 field goals of the game and trailed by as many as 26 points midway through the second quarter before using a 10-2 run to pull within 32-14. UK held the Owls to 24 percent shooting in the first half while shooting nearly 50 percent.

The Cats (1-0) led 34-16 at the break behind 10 points each from Morris and Murray, who finished with 12 points and four steals.

Shani Rainey paced Rice (0-1) with 10 points.

The road gets much tougher for Kentucky right away with the Cats going on the road to face No. 15 Arizona State. The Sun Devils return four starters from a team that went 29-6 last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.