Evelyn Akhator and strong paint play by Kentucky led the no. 8 Cats to a 71-61 victory over the no. 11/13 Duke Blue Devils tonight in Rupp Arena.
The Cats started off strong, forcing a Duke turnover on their first possession to turn that into a basket by Evelyn Akhator. After that, Duke never took the lead, only coming within 5 at the beginning of the 4th period after a 5-0 run. Any time that Duke took one step forward, Kentucky would make them take two more backwards.
Usually a defensive threat, Evelyn Akhator pieced together a 18 point game with three fouls on her in the second half. Akhator scored all but 10 of her teams 22 points in the first quarter, but was benched for the majority of the second after she gathered her second foul a minute in the quarter.
“My teammates really believed in me,” Akhator said after the game, “it was really important for us to get in the paint.
Even Duke’s head coach, Joanne Palombo-McCallie praised Akhator noting that she was a force to be reckoned with tonight.
“That number 13 might be the MVP of this team. Without her I don’t know what they do,” Palombo-McCallie said in post game comments.
Janee Thompson (who Makayla Epps compared to Stephen Curry) also managed to put together a solid game as well, collecting points of her own. Thompson shot 58% from inside the line and going 3-4 beyond it, making them fall at points when the Cats needed a boost to get them over the hump.
Epps silently put together a game of 17 points, playing her second unintentional 40 minute game of the season tonight. She was just shy of a double-double dishing out eight assists tonight, which is when she is the best, according to Epps.
“My assist game is what got me flowing tonight. I wasn’t overly aggressive or looking to score early,” Epps said. “I love when I get an assists on Janee or Maci on a big three.”
Kentucky has dominated inside the paint all season, but tonight Duke used their size advantage to out-rebound the Cats 38-28. However, because of strong paint play on the offensive end the Cats were able to outscore Duke in the paint 38-36, which was emphasized all week according to head coach Matthew Mitchell.
“It was a great, great accomplishment for us to outscore them in the paint,” Mitchell said.
Freshmen Maci Morris and Taylor Murray contained Duke’s Rebecca Greenwell, not allowing her to make a field-goal all night for the first time in her career.
Kentucky is now just one of nine unbeaten teams left in women’s basketball along with Baylor, Mizzou, South Carolina, UCONN and others. They’re also now just one game away from tying their best start is team history at 11-0.
Women’s Hoops will be back in action on Monday Dec. 28, against Tennessee State at 7 in Memorial Coliseum.