After a touch-and-go second half, the No. 18 Lady Cats were able to hang on against the Washington State Cougars 69-67. Sophomore point guard Taylor Murray, who did not play in Sunday’s game against Radford, was once again on the bench due to a broken pinky finger. Freshman Jaida Roper started in her place.
In the first quarter, it looked like the Cats would roll right over the Cougars. Kentucky held Washington State to 2-15 from the floor, while UK hit 10-14. The Cats grabbed 11 rebounds compared to the Cougars’ six, and Makenzie Cann was hot from the three-point line, going 3-3 for the quarter. At the end of the first, the Cats led 26-8.
But then something changed. After being up by 20 with 9:30 left in the second quarter, Washington State made their run. UK’s field goal percentage dropped from 71.4 percent in the first to 21.1 percent in the second. WSU’s, on the other hand, jumped from 13.3 percent to 68.8 percent. After an 11-0 run by the Cougars, Kentucky entered the locker room clinging to a two-point lead.
“We came out swinging, then the energy dropped, the effort dropped,” said Makayla Epps after the game. “It happens, we’re kids.”
The third quarter was slightly better for UK, shooting 37.5 percent from the floor and scoring 20 points to Washington’s 16. Still, the Cougars went on another run, this time 9-0, and took the lead for the first time with 3:15 left in the third. By the end of the quarter, however, a technical foul on the WSU bench and a Maci Morris three-pointer gave the Cats a 58-52 lead.
The last ten minutes of the game continued to be a nail-biter. UK consistently held the lead, but Washington State’s freshman guard Alexys Swedlund hit her sixth three-pointer of the day, tying the score 67-67 with 42.1 seconds left in the game.
Then came the free throws.
Evelyn Akhator was up first, going 2-2 from the line. With the Cats leading 69-67, Washington State’s Nike McClure was sent to the line and went 0-2. Maci Morris was next, also missing both shots. The Cougars had the last possession, but Swedlund fired up a long, contested three-pointer that was far from the mark. Kentucky held on.
“I was very concerned about handling the pressure, and sometimes we did and sometimes we didn’t,” Matthew Mitchell said after the game. “But in the end, we won by one more point than necessary.”
Another positive? After the game, Mitchell revealed the team’s first semester GPA: 3.517.
“That shows you they’re serious students,” Mitchell said. “They’re a great team to coach.”
UK Hoops’ next two match-ups come as road games against tough teams: No. 17 Duke on Dec. 29 and Tennessee on Jan. 1. The Cats will be back in Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 5 at 7:00 against the Missouri Tigers.