In their SEC opener, No. 17 Kentucky fell to Tennessee 65-72 in Knoxville. The Wildcats are now 9-5 on the season, and 0-5 outside of Memorial Coliseum. Today’s game also served as a sort-of homecoming for UK assistant coaches Niya Butts and Kyra Elzy, who played together under Pat Summitt at Tennessee from 1996-2000, a time period that included two national championships.
Throughout the first half, the Cats found their short bench to be an issue. Senior Evelyn Akhator quickly picked up two fouls in the first quarter, sending her to the bench for the majority of the half. Heading into the locker room, Akhator had zero points and one rebound in just six minutes of action. Makayla Epps also struggled early, as her first points of the day did not come until a pair of successful free throws with just over a minute left in the half. Akhator and Epps, who are averaging a combined 30.7 points per game on the season, had a total of just four points in the first twenty minutes. By the end of the game, the pair combined for 19 points.
The team also felt the loss of senior guard Jessica Hardin, who is averaging 3.5 points and 14 minutes per game this season. Hardin was unavailable to play, as she is currently undergoing regular concussion protocol. Junior guard Makenzie Cann is also battling injury, as her nose was broken during the Duke game.
After a stellar 18-point game against Duke last week, Taylor Murray once again led the team in scoring, ending the game with a career-high 23 points and six rebounds.
“Taylor is the player for us right now who is most in-tune mentally and plays both ends of the floor,” Matthew Mitchell said after the game. “She is solid right now.”
After trailing by seven at the half, Kentucky ended the third quarter on a 6-2 run to cut the lead to six. At one point in the fourth quarter, all five Wildcats on the court were guards, and 5-foot-10 Epps was serving as the center. Compared to the last quarter of the Duke game, in which the Cats went just 3-of-18 from the field, Kentucky went 6-16 against the Lady Vols in the final ten minutes.
Despite this, UK just couldn’t catch up. Tennessee shot 45 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from the three-point line, while Kentucky’s percentages were 39.7 and 12.5, respectively.
“We dug ourselves a hole because we wouldn’t get back and defend in transition defense,” Mitchell said. “We have to get back to Lexington and practice and sharpen up because we are mentally not where we need to be right now.”
The Lady Wildcats return to Memorial Coliseum Thursday, Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. to take on the Missouri Tigers.