LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 22 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will conclude its 2016-17 home schedule and honor seniors Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator on Thursday as they welcome No. 3 Mississippi State to Memorial Coliseum for a 7 p.m. ET tip.
The UK program will honor Epps and Akhator for their hard work and dedication to the program with a pregame ceremony set to begin at approx. 6:40 p.m. ET. Kentucky has had great success in Senior Night games, sitting 31-10 all-time in regular-season home finales (1974-75 season not included), winning 11 of its last 13 games, including seven straight.
Epps and Akhator have played a tremendous role in the success of the Wildcats not only this season, but throughout their careers. This season, the pair has combined to add 31.8 points, 14.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. And that’s just a small sampling of the impact these two have made on the program in their time at Kentucky.
In her four years as a Wildcat, Epps has played in 127 games with 82 career starts. Last season, Epps became the 31st player in program history to reach 1,000 points and was the third-fastest player under Mitchell to accomplish the feat. In her junior campaign, Epps also became the second player in school history to post a triple-double with 21 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. As it stands, her 1,664 points rank as the fifth-most in Kentucky history and her 389 assists are the eighth-most by a UK player. She is the only player in school history to rank top five in scoring and top eight in assists. Epps leads UK averaging 16.9 points per game with a team-best 99 assists. She is tied for third in rebounds at 4.4 per game and third in steals with 26.
After coming to Kentucky from Chipola Community College last season, Akhator made an immediate impact in UK’s post play and has continued to improve her game in her senior season. Akhator has played and started in all 60 games since coming to UK, adding 782 points and 587 rebounds. Her 27 career double-doubles are the fourth-most by a Kentucky player, and her 14 so far this season mark the fourth-most in a single season in program history. A three-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honoree this season, Akhator is averaging a double-double with 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. The native of Lagos, Nigeria, ranks high nationally in several different categories, including 15th in double-doubles, 13th in field-goal percentage, 14th in total rebounds and 21st in rebounds per game.
The first 100 fans into Memorial Coliseum on Thursday will receive a free Kentucky women’s basketball t-shirt. All fans are encouraged to bring their most creative signs to the game with the winner earning a free Xbox game system.
The game will be broadcast on the SECNetwork+ with Jeff Piecoro on play-by-play and Andraya Carter as the analyst. The game can also be seen 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 WLAP 630 AM.
Kentucky (19-8, 10-4 SEC) is currently on a four-game winning streak, posting wins over Vanderbilt, Georgia, Arkansas and most recently Florida at home. The Wildcats outscored the Gators 36-21 in the second half to earn the 67-48 victory inside Memorial Coliseum. Akhator was the leader for UK with 19 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore guard Maci Morris had 15 points and Epps added 14 points, three rebounds and three assists. Sophomore guard Taylor Murray added a career-best 11 assists in the game. UK shot 46.4 percent from the field and hit six 3s, moving to 7-1 during league play when it hits six or more 3s in a game.
Thursday’s game concludes Kentucky’s 2016-17 home schedule as the Wildcats end the regular season Sunday at 2 p.m. ET at No. 7 South Carolina. It has been another successful season at home for UK, sitting 14-3, including 14-2 inside Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats are averaging 5,463 fans per home game this season. UK has a +14.7 scoring margin at home this season shooting 44.4 percent from the field.
The Wildcats are averaging 70.0 points per game this season, limiting opponent to 60.4 points per game. Four Wildcats are averaging double figures with Epps at 16.9, Akhator at 14.9, Murray at 12.2 and Morris at 11.9. Murray is second on the team with 95 assists and paces the Wildcats with 55 steals, while Morris has hit a team-high 46 3-pointers.
Third-ranked Mississippi State comes to Lexington with a 27-1 overall record, including 13-1 in conference play. The Bulldogs’ only loss of the season came on Jan. 23 at South Carolina, when MSU was defeated 64-61. Since then, Mississippi State has won seven straight contests. With its victory over No. 23 Texas A&M on Sunday, the Bulldogs moved into sole possession of the SEC standings. Their 27 victories this season are just one short of a school record.
The Bulldogs are led in scoring by junior guard Victoria Vivians who is averaging 16.8 points per game. Vivians is the only member of the team in double-digits, but there are seven players who are averaging more than 7.1 points per game. Sophomore center Teaira McCowan leads the Bulldogs on the boards, averaging 6.4 rebounds per contest. She also leads the team in blocks, with 36 on the season. Mississippi State is outscoring its opponents by a margin of 22.9 points while averaging 76.3 points per game. On average, MSU commits just 13.2 turnovers per game while forcing 21 per contest including grabbing 9.3 steals per game.
Thursday’s meeting with Mississippi State is the 44th all-time between the two teams with UK leading the series 26-17. The Wildcats have won each of the last 10 meetings between the two teams. The Bulldogs last win in the series was Jan. 18, 2009 in Lexington when they earned a 52-45 victory. Kentucky leads the all-time series in games played in Lexington, 11-8. This is the first meeting between the two teams in Lexington since UK’s 92-90 double-overtime victory on Feb. 12, 2015. Mitchell is 11-1 against Mississippi State during his tenure at Kentucky and 11-2 overall as a head coach against his alma mater.
Kentucky and Mississippi State met last season in Starkville, Miss., with No. 16 UK earning a 83-60 victory over No. 14 MSU. UK outrebounded the Bulldogs 49-34 and had 17 assists and only nine turnovers. Four Wildcats scored in double figures with Morris earning 17 points with four rebounds, while Epps had 16 points and eight rebounds. Murray had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Akhator had eight points and 12 rebounds. The Wildcats limited MSU’s five starters to just 15 points as Dominique Dillingham had four points while Vivians had seven.