UK women head into NCAA tournament with confidence, despite injuries

Kentucky Wildcat forward Evelyn Akhator finishes through contact during the first quarter of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Thursday, February 23, 2017 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, KY. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

Chris Leach

After getting beat by South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals, the No. 19 UK women’s basketball team walked off the court disappointed.

The Cats fell short of one of their postseason goals, winning the SEC tournament. In the loss, the Cats trailed by 14 at one point, but came back in the second half to make the game difficult for the No. 5 Gamecocks. 

Despite the loss, the comeback showed people that UK can hang with the top teams in the country.

“It just shows how much fight we have, it just gives us a lot of confidence going into the NCAA tournament,” Maci Morris said following the loss. “We’re just going to learn from this game, go into practice and just work hard and get ready for the tournament.”

The Cats have two weeks following the SEC tournament to get ready for the NCAA tournament. UK is certainly grateful for the long gap in between games, as guards Taylor Murray and Jaida Roper picked up injuries during the SEC tournament.

Murray, the team’s third leading scorer, strained her neck while running into a hard screen during the quarterfinals. Following the semifinal loss, Matthew Mitchell said Murray is in the concussion protocol, but is optimistic that Murray will return before the NCAA tournament.

Roper suffered a head injury in the semifinal matchup after getting elbowed in the head. The only information Mitchell had postgame was Roper is going through tests for a concussion.

Whether or not the Cats get Murray or Roper back for the NCAA tournament, UK will be confident heading into the tournament as the team is playing the best basketball it has played all season.

The Cats’ great season is expected to be good enough to earn UK a top four seed in the NCAA tournament. If the Cats are a top four seed in any region of the bracket, UK will play their first two rounds in Memorial Coliseum.

“It’s a big home-court advantage, especially with all the Kentucky fans that will pack Memorial if that does happen,” Makayla Epps said. “The opportunity to play in Memorial again is something we’re looking forward to, if the opportunity comes our way.”

What region the Cats will be placed in, and who they will play remains a mystery, and will likely be a mystery until Selection Monday comes on March 13.

In the latest bracketology report from ESPN’s Charlie Crème, the Cats are the fourth seed in the Lexington region, meaning the Cats would play in Lexington until the final four if they kept winning.

Sometimes bracketology is not completely accurate, as the projected brackets are just speculations of what Crème thinks will happen, not what actually will happen. No matter, Epps knows that the Cats are capable of matching up against any team in the bracket.

“Regardless of where they put us in the tournament or who we got to face, I’m confident in my team and our abilities,” Epps said.

Epps, and fellow senior Evelyn Akhator, have led the Cats all season, and have played their best on the bigger stages.

This will be Epps and Akhator’s final time playing in the NCAA tournament in a UK jersey, and Mitchell wants to send his seniors off on a good note.

“They’ve both given of themselves this season,” Mitchell said. “I just can’t wait to get in the NCAA tournament, do something special with them.”