Greenville, SC — It was the fifth meeting between Kentucky and Alabama in the SEC tournament, and the Wildcats have never lost. They didn’t let that happen today either, defeating the Crimson Tide 65-55.
Evelyn Akhator shined bright in this quarterfinal match up, with 23 points. Makayla Epps added 12 points, and Alyssa Rice and Maci Morris had 11 points apiece.
“I just have to be patient,” said Akhator. “Coach tells us we need to be patient and poised whenever we have the ball. If we can't decide, we just need to faceoff and see what we've got, just take it. That really boosted my confidence.”
It was a matter of fouls and free throws though, that decided the game.
“Just a credit to Kentucky today. I think if you look at the stat sheet, the difference in the game was the free-throw line,” said coach Kristy Curry of Alabama. “We both had 20 baskets. But you can't allow someone to shoot that many free throws.”
Alabama and Kentucky came out on fire in the first quarter. The Crimson Tide took the lead early when Quanetria Bolton sunk a three-pointer, but the Wildcats answered right away and they were able to pull ahead. Hannah Cook kept the game within one or two points and the quarter ended with the Wildcats on top, 17-14.
Kentucky started to take over as Alabama was trying to stop the bleeding. Akhator was a woman on a mission. She finished the first half with a whopping 17 points and caused havoc all over the court. The Wildcats were able to pull ahead by 10, but then Cook answered with two triples of her own for the Crimson Tide.
Coach Curry of Alabama went into the half pleading her team play harder, and it showed when Cook sunk another pair of two 3-pointers in a row. However, the third quarter was a game of back and forth play because immediately following, Epps started to turn it on for the Wildcats, and added five points to her name.
Kentucky then scored five points from the free throw line, and Alabama followed with three free throws. The Crimson Tide trailed 54-42 at the end of the third stanza.
“We did a great job getting to the line and then converting today, one of the real keys to the game,” said coach Matthew Mitchell. “Just had a really, really difficult day from the field today. To go 85 percent from the line was huge. That was a real indication of toughness and hustle.”
As time started to trickle down in the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide had the classic two options: fight or flight. They fought hard, but after falling behind early there just wasn’t enough time or energy to come back. Some action from Cook and Ashley Williams cut the deficit to six, and then Alabama was forced to foul. Maci Morris canned her free-throws, and Kentucky finished on top.
“I think we have great respect for this tournament. I have great respect for this league. I think it's a privilege and an honor to have one of the 14 seeds in this league that gets to lead a team in here,” said coach Mitchell.
Kentucky will play South Carolina in the semifinals Sat. March 4 for a great matchup; tip-off is set for 5 pm E.T. on ESPNU.