It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Cats this season. After having started the season inside the top 20, and having 2 wins (but 3 losses) versus top 25 competition, the Cats fell out of the Top 25. But things have been getting better in recent weeks, and Mitchell’s troops have strung together 4 consecutive SEC wins. With the conference-leading South Carolina Gamecocks coming to town next week, chalking up as many SEC victories as possible is critical for these Cats as they seek to position themselves in the top 4 by tournament time.
On paper, everything looked favorable for the Cats in their matchup versus Ole Miss However, Coach Mitchell wasn’t anticipating having another key reserve, Mackenzie Cann, out of action. The Cats have managed to make things work while Jessica Hardin has been sidelined for the previous 7 games (completing concussion protocol), but adding Cann to the list of unavailable players could give cause for concern.
Any concerns, however, would be unfounded. After a helter-skelter start by both teams leading to many shot attempts and very few made baskets, the Cats settled in and doubled up the Rebels, 24-12 after the 1st quarter. Kentucky made sure to squash any hopes Ole Miss had about making a game of it in the 2nd quarter. Mitchell’s team put the pedal to the metal and outscored the Rebels 22-6, making it 46-18 at intermission.
It would be easy to assume Kentucky’s success was because Ole Miss just wasn’t that good (they weren’t). Rebels coach Matt Insell said his team didn’t play hard enough and that will “get your butt kicked every time.” But that shouldn’t overshadow the very good things Kentucky did.
For instance, Taylor Murray was as disruptive on defense as I’ve ever seen her. Her teammates clearly fed off her energy, and the list of good things for the Cats just kept growing. Murray’s 8 points and 8 assists only tell part of the story; she easily had that many deflections as well. Makayla Epps and Maci Morris were their usual productive selves, logging 20 and 17 points respectively. Epps earned high praise from Insell, who called her “a very special player. I hope everyone in this state knows how special she is.”
One cannot argue that point; Epps is indeed special. But what cannot be overlooked is the incredible improvement of Evelyn Akhator in the past three weeks. There were shots she made tonight that she struggled with early in the season. Her rebounding has also gotten light years better. And, in spite of being guarded by the tandem of Taylor Manuel and Shelby Gibson, both who outweighed Akhator by a significant amount, Evelyn was able to hold her own. Akhator maintained her position and drew fouls, claimed rebounds, and had an all-around great game with 28 points, 13 boards, and 3 steals.
With this win, the Cats are now 15-6 (6-2) and holding steady in a tie for 3rd place in the conference. The victory was also Coach Mitchell’s 97th SEC win, which lifted him to #10 all-time in the conference. Not too shabby, Coach. Not too shabby at all.
Next week: January 30 (Monday) at Missouri 7 p.m.
February 2 (Thursday) South Carolina 7 p.m.
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue
Follow @CameronRadio for live updates of games