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No. 15 Kentucky Downs Middle Tennessee, 61-48

Taylor Murray had 16 points and 7 rebounds in UK's win. (UK Athletics Photo)

Taylor Murray had 16 points and 7 rebounds in UK’s win. (UK Athletics Photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore guard Taylor Murray scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Kentucky women’s basketball team beat Middle Tennessee 61-48 on Friday night in non-conference action at Memorial Coliseum.

Senior Evelyn Akhator notched her sixth double-double of the season and the 19th of her career, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the contest. Kentucky’s leading scorer on the season, senior Makayla Epps, was saddled with foul trouble for most of the first half, but was able to score 13 points in the contest, with 11 of those coming after halftime.

Kentucky (7-2) dominated the rebounding battle, grabbing 44 compared to Middle Tennessee’s 22. The Wildcats had 18 offensive rebounds and were able to turn those into 11 points. Kentucky also dominated inside, scoring 34 points in the paint to 20 for Middle Tennessee.

Kentucky scored the first four points of the game on a layup by Epps and a jumper by Murray. But Middle Tennessee answered with an 8-1 run to lead 8-5. The Blue Raiders would maintain a similar lead through most of the first period, leading 18-15 at the end of the frame. Murray had eight of Kentucky’s 15 points in the quarter, as the Wildcats shot 50 percent (six of 12) from the field. However, Kentucky turned the ball over seven times in the game’s first 10 minutes, leading to eight Middle Tennessee points.

Middle Tennessee (2-4) started the second quarter on a 5-1 run to extend its lead to 23-16. But Kentucky had a big answer, scoring 11 in a row to take a 27-23 advantage. Middle Tennessee rallied to tie the game at 31-31 before Kentucky got baskets from Jaida Roper and Maci Morris to close the half leading 35-31. Akhator had seven points in the quarter for Kentucky and Roper had five. Roper finished the game with a career-high seven points.

Kentucky played almost the entire second quarter without its leading scorer, as Epps picked up her second foul early in the period and went to the bench, having scored just two points in the first half.

The third quarter started with a Murray jumper and an Epps layup and free throw, extending Kentucky’s lead to 40-31. Kentucky would extend its lead with a 7-2 run at the end of the period, as the Wildcats took a 51-41 lead into the final frame. Epps had five points in the quarter, Murray had four and Akhator had three points and six rebounds during the period.

Both teams came out cold in the fourth quarter, with Kentucky making just one of its first seven shots from the floor while Middle Tennessee missed its first six attempts in the frame. In fact, over the first 7:13 of the final period, Middle Tennessee had scored just three points, all on free throws, and Kentucky’s four points came on layups by Epps and Alyssa Rice. Middle Tennessee would go more than eight minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders finished the period making just one of 11 shots (9.1 percent) from the floor.

Kentucky’s second-half defense was stellar, as the Wildcats held Middle Tennessee to five of 23 field goals in the half, and no three-pointers, after the Blue Raiders hit six threes in the first 20 minutes.

Kentucky did not hit a three-pointer in a game for the first time since November 27, 2014 when the Wildcats lost to Illinois in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

Kentucky returns to action on Sunday, facing Arizona State at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on the SEC Network. 

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