UK women win a thriller against Mississippi State on senior night


Kentucky Wildcat guard Makayla Epps celebrates as time expires during 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

As Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator walked off the court at Memorial Coliseum for the final time, both the seniors knew they gave it everything they had in Thursday’s senior night game.

Both Epps and Akhator were crucial to the Cats’ 78-75 victory over No. 3 Mississippi State. Akhator had her fifteenth double-double of the season, and Epps hit a game winning shot in overtime to cap off the biggest win of the season for the Cats.

After a slow start in the first quarter from UK, the game was very competitive as there were six lead changes alone in the second quarter. The Cats only found themselves trailing by one at halftime after shooting 39 percent from the floor.

Epps and Akhator were apart of the first half offensive struggles, as Akhator only had five points and Epps had four. Coming out of the half, both players played with an intensity that could not be stopped.

Epps would start the third quarter on a 8-0 run to give the Cats a seven point lead, their largest lead of the game. However, UK would cool down and miss nine of their final 10 shots in the third, allowing MSU to take a one point lead into the final quarter.

As a result of the aggressive game, all but one of the Bulldogs’ starters were in foul trouble for the final quarter. Matthew Mitchell noticed and told his team to take advantage.

“We were trying to talk to Evelyn, and the kids that were being guarded by the players in foul trouble seemed to be a little bit tentative,” Mitchell said. “So we were trying to really drive into Mississippi State defensively.”

Akhator certainly listened to her coach as she scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a layup to give the Cats a three point lead with 47 seconds left in regulation.

The Bulldogs would fight back and tie the game with eight seconds remaining. Akhator had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds, but her shot attempt was blocked, keeping the game tied at the end of regulation.

In overtime, Akhator did not cool off as she scored the first eight points for UK. Akhator would tie the game with another contested layup with 55 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, Brenna Richardson turned the ball over, giving the Cats the ball back with 36 seconds. Makenzie Cann would miss a three, but Epps got the rebound and scored with eight seconds left.

Epps had a similar game winning shot against Mississippi State in the past. Fans probably have an easy time remembering it because it was very similar to the shot that took down the Bulldogs on Thursday evening.

“It’s so crazy, it’s basically almost the same exact play, the same exact shot, and the same exact outcome, it’s crazy how things happen.” Epps said.

On MSU’s next possession, the Bulldogs would turn the ball over again with three seconds remaining. The Bulldogs coughed up the ball 22 times, which was a season high for Mississippi State.

Following the turnover, Maci Morris would score one free throw, increasing the Cats’ lead to three. The Bulldogs only had time for a halfcourt heave that was way off, sealing the upset victory for the Cats.

The Cats knew it would take a special performance to beat one of the top teams in the nation, and the great games from Akhator and Epps made that possible.

Akhator finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds, another double-double for the dominant post player. Epps scored 22 more while dealing out five assists.

This victory is huge one for a number of reasons, but none is more important than sending the seniors out on a good note. 

“I think for me, the best thing for us is that Makayla (Epps) and Evelyn (Akhator) will always have tonight,” Mitchell said. “You only have one chance at it (winning on senior night), and now they have it, and you can’t take that from them ever.”