UK women end a successful season with a disappointing loss


Kentucky Wildcat seniors Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator share a moment after defeating the #3 Mississippi State Bulldogs on Thursday, February 23, 2017 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, KY. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

Chris Leach

Before the start of the 2016-2017 women’s college basketball season, no one expected UK to be the threat they were.

After having many offseason departures from players and assistant coaches, the Cats only returned six players, while adding six new players, and two coaches to fill out this year’s team.

However, that inexperienced roster put together a season many did not expect UK to have.

Not many believed that UK would win three games against top-15 teams, but they did. Not many believed that UK would be good enough to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament, but they did.

With 8:57 remaining in the third quarter of the second round in the NCAA tournament, not many believed the Cats could win, as they trailed the Ohio State Buckeyes by 19.

Then, over the next 12:53 of action, the Cats went on a huge run and cut OSU’s lead to one with plenty of time remaining.

“Coach told us that we can come back, we wasn’t in the locker room defeated, we might’ve been a little deflated but we were never defeated,” Makayla Epps said, who helped lead the comeback.

That would be as close as the Cats would come, as the Cats got cold down the stretch, losing to the Buckeyes 82-68.

In their final game in a UK jersey, Epps scored 21 points, and Evelyn Akhator scored 14 more while grabbing a new career high 23 rebounds.

“I’m just so grateful for those two because they’ve taught me as much as anything that I’ve taught them,” said Matthew Mitchell on Epps and Akhator.” No advancement in this tournament, no trophy we could’ve won can replace the gift they gave me, and that is that honesty and hard work and discipline instilled work.”

Epps and Akhator were a major reason why the Cats had the season they did. When the Cats were in need of a big play, Epps and Akhator were always there to score a much-needed bucket, or grab an important rebound.

Unfortunately fans will not have the opportunity to see the seniors play in a UK jersey any longer, as the loss ended the Cats’ season. The crowd at Memorial Coliseum gave both Akhator and Epps a loud standing ovation as they checked out of the game with seconds remaining.

“My teammates, they made my senior year probably the best year, not probably, they made my senior year the best year here,” Epps said. “I’ll never forget the players in the locker room.”

The players in the locker room is what made the season great for the Cats. The Cats did not have the deepest, or the most experienced roster, but they worked hard and exceeded the expectations they had for the season.

Coach Mitchell hopes the success this season will be end all the negativity that surrounded UK, allowing the Cats to move forward and focus on winning.

“I hope that this now puts all this to – finally we can move forward that Kentucky is a great place.” Mitchell said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had an experience as a coach (relating to this season), and this is certainly not the most wins we’ve had, but you talk about a great team, great group of young women, and that’s where all of my emotions are.”