CRAWFORD | Epps, Kentucky take command early for fifth straight - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Epps, Kentucky take command early for fifth straight over Louisville 72-54

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Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell instructs Makayla Epps during the fourth quarter of Thursday's win over Louisville. (AP photo) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell instructs Makayla Epps during the fourth quarter of Thursday's win over Louisville. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Makayla Epps has had some huge performances in her University of Kentucky basketball career. But she hadn’t had one of those monster games against rival Louisville.

Then Thursday happened.

Epps, a junior guard and the daughter of Anthony Epps, who led UK to the 1996 NCAA title, knows about this rivalry. She grew up with it. She even committed to Louisville for a time before deciding to follow in her father’s footsteps.

The rivalry has always been bigger than life to her, but on Thursday before a Rupp Arena crowd of 14,425, she cut it down to size in a 72-54 UK victory.

“There were some times there where I thought she let the rivalry and the magnitude of the game kind of get outside of herself,” UK coach Matthew Mitchell said.

But mostly, there were times when she played the game on her own terms.

She made 10 of 11 shots. She scored 24 points. When the Cardinals pulled within 10 in the third quarter while she took a breather on the bench, she returned to the game, had back-to-back scores while being fouled, and the threat was over.

“That’s always good when you can give her the ball and she can go execute an and-one play,” Mitchell said. “Then she came back down for another tough play. That was very steadying for us because the momentum was clearly in Louisville’s favor at that point and time. That was a huge moment in the game. It kind of steadied us and we were able to go on from there.”

The Wildcats have won five in a row in the series, and Epps enjoyed this one.

“I can’t remember smiling that much during a game,” she told the SEC Network immediately afterward. Later with reporters, she said, “I was having the time of my life.”

There was, in the game, very little for the No. 8-ranked Wildcats to fret over.

UK jumped to a 7-0 lead, pushed it to double digits in the second quarter, led by 17 at halftime and Louisville never was within single digits in the second half. The Wildcats shot 51.8 percent from the field and outrebounded the Cardinals 36-27.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who had hoped his team might have turned some kind of corner with a win at No. 23 Michigan State last week, kept his players in the locker room for an hour after the loss on Thursday, and vowed they’d be back to work early on Friday.

Losses to Kentucky haven’t kept Louisville’s program from accomplishing some big things in the postseason. But this game, for Walz, was particularly troubling. He called it “disgusting.”

“This was the first one we didn’t even show up to play at the beginning,” he said.

Walz added, “You have two choices. Crawl in a hole and feel sorry four yourself and get your ass beat on Sunday (against IUPUI) or come back and fight. I’m going to come back to practice (Friday) at 2 and fight. Now, I’m not sure if they’re all going to join me. It’s going to be fun.  

Epps and others effectively shut down Louisville’s leading scorer, Mariya Moore, holding her to just seven points on 2-for-7 shooting. The Cards got 18 points from Briahanna Jackson, but couldn’t match Kentucky’s production from the post.

Alexis Jennings finished with 14 points — 10 of them in the second half — and added eight rebounds. Evelyn Akhator grabbed nine rebounds and drew three charge calls on the interior.

But the best sign for Mitchell was Epps, taking over in key moments, showing maturity in leadership, after some well-publicized lapses in the past.

“She and I sat down and I told her that she really has to exert herself as a leader on this team,” Mitchell said. “Yesterday, she listened and came back. She showed great leadership and I thought she had some great moments tonight. She just can continue to get better with all the intangibles. Just continue to hustle more, continue to play better defense and continue to improve her leadership. She’s doing all these things. If she’ll keep working, she can get better. She’s come a long way, but we’re not going to stop now.”

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