LEXINGTON, Ky. – Senior Makayla Epps scored 17 points, and Kentucky took advantage of a 26-3 second-quarter run, then survived a late Missouri comeback, as the Wildcats held off the Tigers 64-62 on Thursday night at Memorial Coliseum.
Epps, the senior from Lebanon, Kentucky, also had grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists in the victory. The team’s other senior, Evelyn Akhator, had 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds for Kentucky, while Maci Morris added 11 points for the Wildcats.
Kentucky (10-5, 1-1 SEC) shot just 39.3 percent from the floor in the game, while Missouri converted 40.4 percent of its field goals. But the Wildcats forced 14 Missouri turnovers and were able to convert those into 16 points. Kentucky committed just nine turnovers in the game, and Missouri got just 11 points off of the Wildcats’ turnovers.
“So proud of our team, what an important victory for us,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “A huge second quarter really turned the game around.”
Missouri (11-5, 1-1) won the rebounding battle 37-30, and outscored Kentucky on second-chance points 18-14.
The Wildcats were as cold as the weather outside to start the game, hitting just one of their first nine field goals. In the process, Missouri was able to take an 8-3 lead. Epps ended a Kentucky drought of 5:21 with a basket to cut the lead to 8-5, but the Tigers scored the next seven points to stretch the lead to 15-5. Epps hit a three-pointer at the end of the period to cut Missouri’s lead to 15-8.
Kentucky got a boost early in the second quarter from a pair of freshmen, as both Paige Poffenberger and Jaida Roper came off the bench to hit three-pointers to help the Wildcats cut into Missouri’s lead. Roper’s three gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 16-15.
Kentucky ran off 14 straight points to start the second period, building the lead to 22-15. Missouri then hit a three, but the Wildcats answered with 11 in a row to extend their lead to 33-18 late in the first half. Overall, Kentucky hit six-of-eight from three-point range in the second quarter to lead 34-21 at the break.
In the third period, Missouri was able to cut the lead to as few as 10, at 45-35, but the Wildcats were able to keep the Tigers at bay, despite the fact that Missouri hit 53.8 percent from the floor in the quarter, which ended with Kentucky holding a 51-40 advantage.
Kentucky took a 58-42 lead with 8:01 left in the game, and seemed to be in control. But Missouri refused to go away quietly. In fact, the Tigers mounted a 14-2 run to cut Kentucky’s lead to 60-56 with 1:15 left in the game. Akhator then converted on an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 63-56 with 1:07 to go.
Missouri got a basket from Sierra Michaelis with 25 seconds to go to cut the deficit to 63-58. And after a Kentucky turnover, Sophie Cunningham hit a layup to make it 63-60 with 7.8 seconds remaining. After Morris made one-of-two from the line, Sophie Cunningham converted a layup as time expired to provide the final margin.
Missouri’s Michaelis led all scorers with 22 points, while Sophie Cunningham had 16 for Missouri.
Kentucky had eight players see action in the game, and all eight scored at least three points.
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday when the Wildcats host Texas A&M at Memorial Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.