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Kentucky dodges upset, sidesteps ‘confident’ Cougars in dogfight

Wildcats find a way to win in the absence of one of their top scorers, Taylor Murray. Coach Mitchell says he has a good feeling about his team now 12 games in.

UK Athletics

Lexington, KY — In a game that looked like it was going to be a barn-burner within the first quarter, quickly turned into a dogfight, giving the Wildcats a run for their money as they slipped past Washington State only 69-67.

Kentucky, now (10-4), put an impressive 26 points on the board in the first quarter with the absence of one of their top leading scorers, Taylor Murray, who is out with a broken finger. Meanwhile, they held Washington State to 13.3% (2/15) from the field.

“Honestly, I thought we were a little nervous coming out,” said Washington Head Coach June Daughtery. “We’re going through a transition with both leading scorers out, and we were asking a lot of our younger players who haven’t played a lot of minutes.

“Once they settled down they understood we can get the stops we needed and that gave our offense some confidence.”

As the second quarter came around, Washington State had a different energy and outscored Kentucky 28-12 in just 10 minutes of play.

Kentucky’s senior Makayla Epps, led the team with 12 points in the first half, shortly followed by junior transfer Makenzie Cann with nine herself.

But they couldn’t find a stop for Washington State’s Chanelle Molina as she led the Cougars with 14 points of her own.

Coming out of intermission, both teams came out hot as the Wildcats drew first blood with a jumper by sophomore Maci Morris. The third period itself was a whole different ballgame with an intense seesaw battle, as Washington State fought to stay on Kentucky’s heels.

With five minutes to play in the third, Epps went coast to coast as she made a hard run to the rim and with a tricky shot hit an and-one. Her made free throw to follow put the Cats up 49-41, showing the crowd just the reason why she’s on numerous national award watch lists.

“They had 11 turnovers in the first quarter, so it was an awkward quarter for them, and we came out swinging, but halftime our energy, hustle, and effort dropped,” Epps said. “It’s kind of hard; we’re human just kids, and that happens.

“It was a gutty performance, and we just had to gut it out. And without Taylor, we all had to step up big- we won by two points, but a win is a win.”

Kentucky’s Evelyn Akhator was the star of the final 20 minutes with a double-double (19 points and 13 rebounds) as she battled to keep the Wildcats’ lead.

As time wound down in the final quarter, Morris was at the line for two free throws with 11 seconds left as the Wildcats led by just two, 69-67.

Morris missed her shots but hustled to the other end of the floor and made a key play as she stopped the Cougar’s Alexys Swedlund from a downtown shot to steal the game from the Wildcats.

Kentucky survived Washington State and will return to the court at No. 17 Duke following the holidays on Thursday, Dec. 29 at 7 pm ET.