Duke will provide major challenge in Kentucky’s final non-conference game

Maci Morris (Vicky Graff Photo)

By EVAN CRANE, UK Media Relations

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 17 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will continue the nation’s third-hardest schedule when it ends non-conference play at No. 15 Duke on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The game will be shown live on ACC Network Extra through WatchESPN on computers, smartphones and tablets. Now in his 12th season, Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call of the game on Fox Sports 1580AM. Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.

“Well, really excited for our final non-conference opportunity,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Duke is a fantastic team and is obviously off to a great start. They have won a lot of big games so far this year. I am really proud of our team and how they have come back from the break. We have had two really quality practices with great effort and great attitude and really good intensity. So I am excited about finalizing our preparations and trying to go over and win what would be a valuable road non-conference game to us as we head into conference play. But it is the time of year where all the games that you feel like you are going to win when you go in this time of year, those are over for us now. And every game from here out starting with Duke and going through the SEC schedule is going to be a big-time game for us. We need to just continue to practice hard and work hard for each other and good things are going to happen. We are going to try to work hard to prepare for a big victory at Duke.”

Kentucky (9-3) is coming off a thrilling 69-67 victory over Washington State on Dec. 21 to end its home non-conference schedule. Three Wildcats scored double figures in the game with senior post Evelyn Akhator earning her 20th career double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. The strong outing led Akhator to be named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season. Fellow senior Makayla Epps had 20 points in the game.

The win moved the Wildcats up one spot to No. 17 in The Associated Press Top 25 and No. 23 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25. Duke (11-1) is the fifth ranked opponent the Wildcats will face this season, entering the game No. 15 in the AP Top 25 and No. 17 in the Coaches Poll. UK currently ranks third nationally in strength of schedule according to the latest NCAA RPI report. Kentucky is 2-2 against ranked opponent this season, defeating Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma before setbacks at Louisville and vs. Arizona State.

Epps leads Kentucky in scoring by averaging 17.9 points per game, adding a team-best 51 assists. The native of Lebanon, Ky., has scored in double figures in every game but one this season, including five 20-plus point performances. Akhator is second on the team in scoring and is averaging a double-double this season with 14.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. The native of Lagos, Nigeria, has scored in double figures in 10 games and has 10 or more rebounds in eight games. Sophomore Taylor Murray and Maci Morris are also averaging 10 or more points this season. Murray, who has missed the last two games with an injury, is averaging 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while Morris is averaging 12.2 points and is hitting .357 from 3.

As a team, the Wildcats are averaging 73.0 points per game, hitting 44.2 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3 with a +4.4 rebounding margin and 1.1 assist-turnover ratio. UK is averaging only 12.3 miscues per game this season, ranking eighth nationally and first in the SEC in turnovers per game. The Wildcats also rank top 10 nationally and first in the league in fewest person fouls per game.

After starting the season unranked, Duke sits 11-1 overall and is ranked top 20 nationally in both major polls. The Blue Devils entered the top 25 after taking down No. 3 South Carolina, 74-63, in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 4. Duke is 7-0 at home this season and 4-1 on the road.

As a team, the Blue Devils are averaging 82.2 points per game, out-rebounding teams by 7.9 rebounds per game. Duke is averaging 17.3 assists per game and is hitting 50 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3 as a team. Defensively, Duke is limiting opponents to just 53.8 points per game, 32.4 percent from the field and 27.2 percent from 3. The Blue Devils are forcing teams into 20.3 turnovers per game.

Rebecca Greenwell leads the team by averaging 20.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Greenwell is third on the team with 31 assists, while she is hitting 48.3 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3. Lexie Brown is averaging 17.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game with a team-best 33 steals, while Oderah Chidom is averaging 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Duke has five players averaging nine or more points per game.

Thursday’s meeting with Duke is the eighth in program history for the Wildcats with the Blue Devils leading the all-time series 5-2, including a 2-0 mark in Durham. This is the sixth straight season the two schools have met in the regular season with Duke holding a 3-2 advantage in those games. This is Kentucky’s first trip to Durham since an 89-68 setback on Dec. 21, 2014.

Last season, Kentucky defeated Duke inside Rupp Arena 71-61 on Dec. 20, 2015. Akhator and Epps led the way for the Wildcats with Epps scoring 17 points with eighth assists, while Akhator had 18 points and six rebounds. UK shot 48.3% from the field in the game, limiting Duke to just 36.7% from the field. The Blue Devils out-rebounded UK, 38-28, but UK had more points in the paint 38-34.

 

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