UK women advance to semifinals after handling Alabama


Kentucky Wildcat forward Evelyn Akhator shoots a jump shot during the second 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

The No. 20 UK women’s basketball team might not have had the best day offensively, but when you are in the SEC tournament, getting the win is the only thing that matters.

The Cats beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 65-55 in their quarterfinals matchup Friday afternoon. The Cats only shot 34 percent from the floor, but got a big boost from the free throw line, where UK went 22-26.

The Cats led by as much as 12 in the first half, but UK went cold down the stretch, going scoreless the final two minutes of the half, while Alabama made four of their final five shots. The Cats’ took a six-point lead with them into halftime.

Hannah Cook kept the Tide in the game by knocking down three three-pointers in the first half, and Cook would make two more three’s early in the third quarter. At that point, UK led by four.

After struggling offensively in the first half, the Cats still could not hit any shots in the second half. If it were not for the 15 free throws UK knocked down in the second half, the Cats could have had more trouble against Alabama.

“We certainly looked a little dis-jointed offensively, just had a really difficult day from the field,” Matthew Mitchell said. “To go 85 percent from the line was huge, big key to the game.”

The Cats finished the third quarter strong and would take a 12-point lead with them into the final quarter. Alabama never came too close to UK’s lead as the Tide shot 29 percent in the fourth quarter.

While the perimeter players struggled, the post players for UK carried the load for the Cats. Evelyn Akhator finished with 23 points and nine rebounds. 17 of Akhator’s 23 points came from the first half.

Alyssa Rice gave the Cats a much-needed boost, scoring a career high 11 points and grabbing five rebounds. With shots not falling from outside, the post presence for the Cats is what ultimately gave the Cats the quarterfinal victory.

“We were just looking to be aggressive and dunk in on their post players because a lot of time they were playing behind,” Rice said. “Just playing with poise, we worked on that a lot in practice.”

The Cats will now face No. 1 seeded South Carolina in the semifinals, on March 4 at 5 p.m. The Gamecocks are the reigning SEC tournament champions, and they have the SEC player of the Year in A’ja Wilson.

The Cats have struggled against USC this season, losing both matchups by at least eight points. Despite the obvious challenge South Carolina imposes, the Cats still have one goal in mind, and that is winning the whole thing.

“We came down with our goal to win the tournament,” Mitchell said. “I think you have to go through the champion (to win it all), whether it’s tomorrow or Sunday.”