Cats take down Union in exhibition contest


Senior forward Evelyn Akhator goes up for a jump shot during the game against Union on Thursday, November 3, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

By Chris Leach

After an off season filled with concerns over how the roster would turn out with so many players leaving the team, the No. 19 UK women’s basketball team was looking to prove that they were still a legitimate force in the NCAA in Thursday evening’s exhibition game against Union University.

Fans leaving Memorial Coliseum Thursday night probably left with lots of faith in this year’s team, as the Cats were able to take down the Union Bulldogs 78-60.

The Cats got the game started with an impressive display of offense. UK put up 25 points in the first quarter, and 24 more points in the second quarter.

Senior Makayla Epps led the offensive showcase as she set a career high in three point shots made before end of the first quarter with four. Epps’ hot shooting did not slow down after the first quarter, as she would finish the game with 31 points, shooting 12-24 from the floor. 

“During preseason I spent a lot of time in the gym working on three point shot because I wanted a higher percentage,” Epps said.

Epps was not the only player who set a career high tonight. In her first start of her college career, Taylor Murray finished the game with a career high seven assists.

The other starting senior on this year’s team, Evelyn Akhator, had a big game herself. Akhator had as many points as she did rebounds with 17.

The Cats would go into halftime with a 17-point lead after shooting 48.6 percent from the floor.

Once the second half got underway, the Bulldogs’ defense intensified which led to the Cats struggling offensively. UK would end up shooting 26.5 perfect from the floor in the second half.

“I thought in the first half, we got into a good rhythm, and people were aggressive and excited to play,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “The second half, we just couldn’t get them to go down, and I thought then, that started to kind of get in our head a little bit.”

Even with Union doing a good job slowing down the Cats’ offense, the Bulldogs did not get close to the large lead that the Cats had built. Defensive pressure from the Cats helped limit the Bulldogs to only seven points in the third quarter.

The Cats were able to force Union to turn the ball over 14 times, and the Cats took advantage and score 17 points off those turnovers. Mitchell has preached defense to his team throughout the preseason and was happy to see the defense perform well in tonight’s game.

This exhibition game also gave players a chance to get some game experience as the Cats’ tough schedule gets closer to the present.

One of the goals of playing an exhibition game is leaving the arena with no additional injuries and for a moment before halftime, it looked like the Cats might have escaped the night injury-free.

However, just before halftime, starting sophomore guard Maci Morris went down in front of the Cats’ bench with a knee injury. Morris wound up playing 17 minutes in the second half, scoring three points to finish with eight.

“It slowed her down a little bit the second half but she’s a tough kid, she’ll bounce back,” Mitchell said.

Now with some game time experience under their belts, the Cats have a week to get ready for the games to start counting in the regular season.

The Cats’ will start the regular season by playing No. 14 Miami (FL) in the Kentucky Classic hosted at Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 11. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.