Epps scores 30 as UK advances past Belmont


Kentucky Wildcat guard Makayla Epps shoots a jump shot during the third 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.

Chase Campbell

The luck of the Irish had no place in Memorial Coliseum Friday, as the No. 13 Belmont and No. 4 UK women’s basketball fought tooth and nail on St. Patrick’s Day, hoping to advance to the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

“We have so much respect for Belmont after that game” said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell. “They just played with an incredible energy.”

Belmont gave the Cats all they could handle, only dropping the game on a missed three-pointer at the buzzer, giving the UK the 73-70 victory.

Makayla Epps broke her personal record for made threes in a game, shooting 5-for-8, and only missing from deep in the fourth quarter. Before this battle, she had made no more than three shots from deep in any game in her career.

The Cats had three players in double figures, with Epps scoring 30 points while playing all 40 minutes, fellow senior Evelyn Akhator tallying 22 points, and clutch shooter Maci Morris scoring 15 points.

UK opened the game by going ahead 12, but by halftime, excellent shooting by Belmont’s Kylee Smith and powerful rebounding from Sally McCabe gave the Bruins a one-point lead going into the locker room. At this point, the Cats were being out-rebounded by 11 and Belmont looked primed for an upset.

“Coach told us at the break, he said we weren’t hustling. So we took the gut check.” said Akhator.

The Cats took their coach’s words to heart, going on a 13-point run to open the second half, only to have their lead taken away in the final minutes of the game. Belmont only led for 43 seconds, but they were within five for the final two minutes of the game, making Epps and the Cats scrap for every point and stop that they could get.

“That was just fun,” said Belmont head coach Cameron Newbauer. “I don’t think I would even be more proud of them if they won.”

In the final minute, Morris hit a corner three that secured the lead for good for UK, a shot that Coach Mitchell called the play of the game.

“I mean, I just threw it up, and it went in” said Morris, fully aware that shooting is exactly what she’s on the team to do. She also scored nearly half of her 15 points at the free throw line, going 7-for-8 on the game, and keeping the Cats away from a hungry, surging Bruins team.

The Cats will move on to play the winner of Ohio State and Western Kentucky on Sunday.

Maybe UK’s assistant coach Lin Dunn’s bright green jacket helped UK overcome the sharpshooting Bruins on St. Patrick’s Day, but the whole team would surely deny it.