It was a weekend filled with Wildcats, as the men played UT-Martin Friday night and the football team had their annual battle for the Governor’s Cup versus Louisville on Saturday. While nobody doubted the basketball game would result in the Cats remaining undefeated on the season, the nation was shocked when our Football Cats knocked off the #11 ranked Cardinals in Papa John’s Stadium. So, with 2 down and 1 to go, the pressure was on the women’s basketball team to complete a perfect Wildcat weekend on Sunday, when they faced Samford.
Actually, there wasn’t much pressure at all as the Cats thumped the Bulldogs 80-57. Not surprisingly, senior forward Evelyn Akhator recorded her 5th double-double of the season (15 points, 13 rebounds), and Makayla Epps poured in 20 points of her own. The Cats had 4 players in double figures (Taylor Murray with 15 and Makenzie Cann with 12). While Kentucky also dominated the boards 36-21, Coach Mitchell warned that margin may have been skewed since Samford was focusing more on getting down the court instead of fighting for rebounds.
Overall, Coach Mitchell was very pleased with the game.
“We’ve had great development I’m proud of the team. They have worked very hard over the past 2 days to get ready for Samford. We lost some intensity in the 2nd half, so we need to improve on that. “
While it seemed the two teams were evenly matched at the beginning of the game, Kentucky didn’t take long to break open the game, leading 22-12 at the end of the 1st quarter, and then outscoring the Bulldogs 19-5 in the 2nd quarter, to take a 41-17 lead at halftime. Though the Cats had eased up on their defense, Samford was not able to take advantage and trailed 63-42 after 3 quarters.
While defensive intensity may have been inconsistent, the ladies had no problem getting to the free throw line. Shooting 24-31 from the strike (77.4%), Mitchell was happy with the team’s aggressiveness that allowed them to have that many opportunities.
When it was pointed out to Coach Mitchell that 4 of the Cats had scored in double figures, he said he was pleased with that but “we need to embrace the defensive end more. We need a real love for defense.” So how will Mitchell fix that? He noted that this year was a little different from years past with so many new faces on the team, and he and the coaching staff were still trying to find out what each player is capable of doing. “But that’s on me, ” said Mitchell. “Today showed me a lot about what they can do when they’re locked in and focused.”
That focus is definitely going to be needed as the Cats’ schedule will heat up considerably in December with games against Oklahoma, Louisville, Arizona State, Washington State and Duke. But it seems that the players and coaches are ready for the challenge. Perhaps Mitchell’s most telling comment was this:
This team has a great spirit about them; they want to please, they work hard in the classroom, represent us well off the court and there’s no complainers.
After a rocky spring, hearing those positive words from Matthew Mitchell was music to this Cat fan’s ears. I’d say it was the equivalent of Coach Cal’s “I like my team.” And you know what? I like this team, too.
Next game: Thursday, December 1 vs Oklahoma – at Memorial Coliseum 7:00pm