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UK relies on defense to overcome ETSU

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Averaging 98.5 points entering a game on Sunday, Kentucky had grown accustomed to relying on its offense. The Wildcats had allowed 215 points in their last two games, but had beaten both Baylor and DePaul, serving as further reinforcement.

Against East Tennessee State, however, it was a different story.

"I thought East Tennessee State played really, really hard and obviously caused us some problems today and competed tough," Matthew Mitchell said. "We had to win it with our defense today and that is something that has been different for us from previous games."

UK appeared poised to threaten triple digits on the scoreboard once again after a 49-point first half, but the Cats went cold over the final 20 minutes. Kentucky shot just 8 of 25 (32.0 percent) from the field in its lowest-scoring half of the season, but still won 73-56 to tie a school record with an 11-0 start to the 2013-14 season.

"I think you need to give a lot of credit to East Tennessee State I think they played hard and came in with a lot of fire today," Mitchell said. "It was a different situation for our team to be in, probably made them a little uncomfortable."

Even through those offense struggles, ETSU managed to trim UK's 20-point halftime lead by only three. For the game, the Lady Buccaneers shot 36.5 percent and managed just 0.709 points per possession.

"I am glad we were able to tighten up there in the second half and really shut them down for a long period of time," Mitchell said. "That was a big difference in the game."

It was somewhat of a throwback for Kentucky, which ascended the ranks of women's college basketball largely on the strength of defense. So in some ways, Sunday served as a reminder of just how important that end of the floor is.

"Defense is always important to us," said Samarie Walker, who tied for the team high with 12 points. "That's one of our main focuses on this team. I wouldn't say our offense wasn't really working today. We just weren't playing that hard, in my opinion. But defense is always good to fall back on when we aren't doing as well as we'd like to on offense."

Walker, at least in part, attributes that subpar offensive effort to the brutal December schedule UK has faced. It began with a home win over then-No. 4 Louisville. Next, UK traveled to Dallas and Chicago within the span of a week before turning around and hosting ETSU three days later.

Now, UK has some time to rest. The Cats have a week off before hosting No. 2 Duke in Rupp Arena next Sunday, though they will have to contend with finals in between. UK won't practice on Monday or Tuesday, meaning the Cats will take the next two days to study and clear their minds.

"Coach talked about that today, just moving forward," Walker said. "Once we come back to practice on Wednesday, kind of learn from it and then let it go and move on and focus on our next game."

Epps 'blessed' to play after car accident

UK has dealt with injuries and adversity all season, but no moment has been scarier for the Cats than the one Makayla Epps faced on Saturday evening.

Driving back from a funeral on the Bluegrass Parkway, Epps lost control of her car. Her vehicle flipped several times and the freshman was taken to the hospital, but she walked away with only a neck sprain.

And less than 24 hours later, she suited up and played against ETSU.

"I didn't see this one coming at all," Epps said. "I didn't think I was going to get to play today. Real grateful to get out there with my teammates and be able to contribute, as always."

Epps provided an immediate boost of energy when she checked in at the 13:20 mark, scoring all eight of her points in the first half and hitting a pair of 3s.

"I was proud of her to be able to come back and being able to play," Mitchell said. "We needed her out there today. She made some great hustle plays and those were at a premium today because we had a hard time getting the crowd going."

Epps, in spite of the traumatic experience, considers herself "blessed" to be healthy and playing.

"I'm here, that's the best thing," Epps said.

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