Murray’s career-high six steals lifts UK past Auburn


Freshman guard Taylor Murray (24) shoots a layup 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

Caitlin Schwartz

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Coming off of a tough eleven-point loss against No. 2 South Carolina on Thursday, the No. 9 Cats had another difficult task ahead of them with the Auburn Tigers. It was an ugly game in Memorial Coliseum to say the least.

The last meeting between the two teams, just a short two weeks ago, left the Cats looking for revenge after Auburn gave them their first loss of the season in the Southeastern Conference opener. The Cats took down the Tigers today making them even on the season, winning the game 54-47.

“We are thrilled with a victory,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said after the game. “They are a very, very tough team and are well coached.”

Today was the 46th meeting between the two teams in the history of both programs. UK has won eight of the past nine matchups against the Tigers, although Auburn has the lead in the all-time series, 26-20.

The Tigers came out aggressive and ready to once again take down the highly ranked Cats leading most of the first quarter. But the Cats took their first lead of the game, 11-10 with about a minute remaining in the first quarter with a bucket from Taylor Murray.

Auburn took back the lead in the second quarter with a pair of threes. Taylor Murray once again returned the favor with a nice three-pointer to tie the game up 20-20 with two minutes left to go in the first half. The half ended with UK shy one-point from a tie at 22-21.

UK had a whopping 26 turnovers in the last match up against the Tigers shooting only 39 percent from the field and a dreadful eight percent from outside the arc. Today the Cats took down that turnover number to 19 while the Tigers had 21.

“It was a great defensive game on both side of the court,” Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said about the low scoring game. “At the end of the day we can’t turn the ball over 21 times.”

UK’s Evelyn Akhator started flirting with a double-double as she put up six points and six rebounds for the Cats in the first half. Akhator ended the game with 12 points and 10 rebounds. UK’s top two scorers Makayla Epps and Janee Thompson combined for only three points in the first half.

Auburn’s Brandy Montgomery led the Tigers with 15 points, the only Tiger in double-digit scoring.

Epps finally hit a three in the third quarter after being cold shooting 0-4 in the game. She finished 1-7 behind the arc and put up 13 points overall.

Shortly after, Taylor Murray got the fans to their feet as she made her fifth steal of the game finishing with a bunny at the other end to take the biggest lead of the game thus far, 34-28 with 2:50 to go in the third quarter. She followed up a minute and a half later with yet another steal and making both free throws after being fouled.

“She’s quick enough to do that,” Williams-Flournoy said about Murray’s six steals. “It goes back to my statement that you can’t turn the ball over 21 times against Kentucky.”

The atmosphere was special for Murray today as her mom traveled from Odenton, Maryland to watch her play.

“I was joking with the team because her mom came down to watch the game and I said that her mom was going to have to come every game,” teammate Epps said. “She played great today, extremely clutch.”

Murray had a career-high in both points and steals with 14 points and six steals.

“I was just there to help my teammates,” Murray said. “In anyway shape or form, however they needed me.”

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said he was really proud of the way Murray stepped up today.

“She did a really great job and even though she doesn’t have great stats she is a great contributor on defense for us,” Mitchell said. “Six steals were just so huge today in a game like that. We clearly wouldn’t have been as successful today without her contribution.”

The fourth quarter was filled with energy and intensity. Adding to the intensity was Epps as she got a layup and-one and adding her famous roar after the bucket and knocking down her free throw. The three-point play extended the lead to 10 for the Cats with 5:30 left to play. Although the Tigers came within four in the final minutes, the Cats were able to hold the lead for the remainder of the game.

“We are still trying to grow as a basketball team and get better,” Mitchell said. “It is just great that we can win on the way.”