Cats use good free throw shooting to hold off Washington St.


Junior forward Evelyn Akhator (13) drives the ball in traffic during the game against the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, January 17, 2016 in Lexington,. Kentucky won the game 54-47. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

By Chris Leach

In its final home game of 2016, the No. 18 UK women’s basketball team escaped Memorial Coliseum with a well-earned victory, defeating the Washington State Cougars 69-67.

Early on, the game looked like it would be a blowout for the Cats, as they had an 18-point lead at the end of the first quarter. At halftime, that lead was cut down to two, thanks to an offensive explosion from WSU that outscored the Cats 28-12 in the second quarter, including finishing the half on a 11-0 run.

“We probably relaxed a little bit and felt like we didn’t need to move as much [in the second quarter],” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “When it gets tough for us, we tend to kind of withdraw from the fight on the defensive end.”

The Cougars came out of halftime with that same intensity that sparked the comeback and took the lead for the first time with 3:23 remaining in the third. However, the Cats would respond with a 9-2 run and would take a six-point lead into the final quarter.

It looked like the Cats were starting to run away with the game after Makayla Epps knocked down a three to increase UK’s lead to nine with 7:39 left, but hot three-point shooting from Alexys Swedlund kept the Cougars in the game.

Swedlund hit three threes in the fourth quarter, including one to tie the game up with 1:12 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Evelyn Akhator would get fouled and knock down two big free throws to give the Cats a two-point lead.

“We’ve been working on our free throws, that really counts,” Akhator said.

Free throws would prove to be crucial late in the game, and with 12 seconds remaining, Nike McClure of WSU would get fouled and head to the line with a chance to tie the game. However, McClure would miss both free throws. Maci Morris would then be intentionally fouled, but she would miss her free throws as well.

With 11 seconds left, WSU had a chance for the win with the ball in Swedlund’s hands, but she could not get open and missed a three at the buzzer, sealing the win for the Cats.

“I was really proud of the team to be able to finish down the stretch and earn a really tough victory,” Mitchell said.

The Cats have played these last two games without their starting point guard, Taylor Murray. Murray has a chance to return in the Cats’ next game at No. 17 Duke, and the team would definitely embrace her return.

“Taylor [Murray] just adds a whole different excitement to our style of play,” Epps said. “It’s just a different dynamic, having to move me to mainly the point guard again when I’ve been playing off the ball.”

Up next for the Cats is a matchup with Duke on Dec. 29 in Durham where UK will be looking to win its first road game of the season.