Women’s hoops defeated Tennessee 64-63 tonight in a nail bitting game that went down to the last second after holding a 57-47 lead with five minutes left to play.
Going down three spots in the AP poll today, the 12th ranked Wildcats spent the first half playing catch up to a Tennessee team that is ranked seven spots below them.
The Cats struggled for the entirety of the first period getting their shots to fall; only making 12 of 40 field-goals and 2 of 6 three pointers. So even though the Vols had 12 turnovers to Kentucky’s three turnovers, the game was far more closer than it should have been.
Even though the scored didn’t show it, the Cats outscored Tennessee 16-4 in paint in the first half, and there was 10 lead changes as well. Despite the efforts, Kentucky would still trail 35-28 at halftime.
They then spent the second half grabbing the lead, stretching the lead and then grasping at straws to hold on to the lead.Makayla Epps started the second half hot, scoring the Cats first seven points of the half within the first minute and 58 seconds to bring them within two at 35-37. Spending the majority of the third quarter playing catch-up, Taylor Murray finally hit the go-ahead three with 4:45 left in the quarter that was quickly trailed by Epps for a lay-up to stretch it to 45-42.
The 12-0 run by the Cats in the third quarter allowed the Cats to create some distance between them and the Vols, ending the quarter at 49-44; holding Tennessee to making 1 out of 11 of their last field-goals.
The Cats were able to hold off Tennessee’s advances in the fourth quarter, only allowing them to get within two at 49-47. However, a three by Epps, followed by an Evelyn Akhator and-one and a Vols shot-clock violation propelled the Cats to a quick 55-47 lead with just over five minutes to go.
However, what was once a ten point lead with half a quarter to go would be diminished to just a two point lead at 59-57 with two minutes to play. Thankfully, Janee Thompson would go 2-2 from the line and follow that with a jumper to leave the Cats ahead one at 63-62 after the Vols made a basket and went 1-2 from the charity stripe.
The last 28.1 seconds of the game were a whirlwind of back and forth and questioning if Kentucky would even be able to pull out the win. Kentucky was only up by one at 63-62. Tennessee fouled Janee Thompson, putting her at the line for two, where she missed the first and made the second, giving the Vols the ball. Once back down the court, Akhator would “foul” Tennessee’s Te’a Cooper to send her to the line for two as well. Cooper then went on to make her first and miss her second, where Tennessee grabbed the offensive rebound, attempted to put it back up, missing the shot and losing the ball.
On the next possession Tennessee fouled Camara, where she missed both free throws, and the Vols rebounded the ball with four seconds to go, giving Tennessee the ball for a chance to win. With that four seconds, Tennessee’s Cooper failed to put up a shot before time expired, Kentucky getting the 64-63 victory.
Individually, Epps had a heck of a night. She was basically unstoppable in the third quarter, scoring 14 of her 23 points. Along with those 23 points, she had two assists, a rebound and was the fire behind the third period resurgence that led to a 10 point lead.
“She really, really took over in the third quarter and that was a huge positive development for our team. So I just tried to tell her to have some confidence and stop trying so hard and just focus in and do the right thing and shoot on balance and attack the rim and she’d have some success. She did that,” Matthew Mitchell said after the game.
For Thompson, she had 15 points, six assists and three steals of her own. Camara, in her first start as a Wildcat was major in the paint, gathering eight points and nine rebounds.
Overall, the Cats were out rebounded 41-38, but outscored the Vols in the paint 34-16. Kentucky even had a season low of 10 turnovers the entire game, which Mitchell deemed a miracle.
The Cats will be back in Memorial on Thursday against Vanderbilt at 7.