UK women hold on late to beat Auburn on the road


Junior guard Makayla Epps (25) high fives freshman guard Maci Morris (4) after she makes a three during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Sunday, February 21, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game 77-63. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

Chris Leach

There was some nervous energy in Auburn Arena when a tornado warning caused a half hour tipoff delay for Sunday afternoon’s women’s basketball game between UK and Auburn. But that was nothing compared to the nervous energy in the final two minutes of the game between two of the top teams in the SEC.

With just 1:22 left in the game, Auburn’s Brandy Montgomery hit two free throws to tie the game up at 58. Before that, the Cats had a five point lead with 2:44 to go, but lost it by turning the ball over twice, allowing Auburn to score on back-to-back possessions.

The Cats would respond from Montgomery’s free throws with an and-one from Makayla Epps. Epps was huge for the Cats down the stretch, scoring 13 points in the second half after not making much of an impact in the first half.

Maci Morris led the Cats in the first half, scoring 10 points before intermission and finishing with 18 to go along with nine rebounds, just one rebound shy of what would have been her first double-double of her young career.

Morris all but locked up the victory for the Cats after Janiah McKay of Auburn missed a wide-open layup with her team trailing by three with six seconds left. Morris would be intentionally fouled, and hit one of two free throws to seal the 64-60 victory for the Cats.

With Morris and Epps having big games, the other starting guard for the Cats, Taylor Murray, was able to find some openings in the defense at will.

Auburn’s full court press, and traps along the sideline allows guards, or wing players to get open on the weak side of the court, giving them an easy look at an open jumper. Morris and Epps certainly got their fair share of open shots, and Murray got hers too, scoring 14 points and dishing five assists. The three starting guards for the Cats scored 49 of the Cats’ 64 points.

Auburn’s defense also makes opponents turn the ball over a lot, something that the Cats hardly do.

The Cats are seventh in the nation, and first in the SEC in fewest turnovers per game, coughing up the ball an average of 12.2 times a game. With the Cats struggling to figure out how to attack Auburn’s defense early, the Cats already had 12 turnovers at halftime.

The Cats would eventually figure it out and return to their normal ways of protecting the ball in the second half. The Cats only lost the ball seven times in the second half, and only twice in the final quarter. If the Cats continued being sloppy with the ball through the entire game, it is possible the Cats’ win streak would have stopped in Auburn.

The Cats now find themselves near the top of the SEC standings with a 5-2 record. UK has won four straight SEC games, three of which have been on the road.

The Cats will look to continue their impressive play when they return to Memorial Colliseum to take on Ole Miss on Jan. 26. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.