Epps Explodes, Shows Versatility as UK Tops Oklahoma
With the other half of Kentucky’s top-scoring duo – Evelyn Akhator – slow to find a rhythm saddled with foul trouble, it was on Makayla Epps to step up.
Step up she did, but she was already planning on doing that.
“I kept telling myself and everybody that was texting me and asking me how I think was going to play tonight,” Epps said. “I can’t predict the future, but I told them, my main goal every game is to get started early. I feel like if I get started early, that builds my confidence and my momentum.”
Epps going early and there was no slowing her as No. 17 UK (6-1) took down No. 12 Oklahoma (5-1) by a final score of 82-68 on Thursday night in Memorial Coliseum for the Wildcats’ second top-15 win of this early season. She poured in 30 points, kicking in five assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block to go along with her season high in scoring.
It came on the heels of two days of practice in which Epps worked hard on aggressively attacking and she applied the lessons her coaches tried to impart to great effect.
“What I was pleased with was how she got going,” Matthew Mitchell said. “And what she’s been doing a lot is floating in the lane and trying to avoid contact and landing on one foot. … She came right out of the gates getting two feet in the paint, jumping off two feet.”
Almost as impressive as her scoring was Epps’ ability to play out of position. Short on post players with Akhator and Alyssa Rice sitting next to him on the bench, Mitchell was forced to turn to a smaller lineup and a 2-3 zone.
“It was just weird to see five guards playing a 2-3 zone with me in the middle,” Epps said. “I never would have expected playing a 2-3 zone in college being the middle person.”
With her strength, Epps was the best candidate to man the middle with the five-guard lineup of her, Taylor Murray, Maci Morris, Jessica Hardin and Makenzie Cann. That put her in the unenviable position of battling 6-foot-4 Vionise Pierre-Louis and even 6-foot-9 Nancy Mulkey in the post.
“I hope there’s a picture somewhere because I’m sure it’s funny,” Epps said. “Very long. Her elbows were in my face. I couldn’t get around her.”
Thankfully for Epps, the five-guard lineup wasn’t a permanent thing, as effective as it may have been. Eventually, Akhator was able to return and play the fourth quarter.
“I told Evelyn at the start of the fourth quarter, I said, ‘This is your quarter,’ ” Epps said. “And she turned it on.”
Playing all 10 minutes of the fourth quarter after managing only nine the first three, Akhator scored nine of her 11 total points and had two rebounds, two steals and an assist. As Mitchell said, there’s no doubt each one of the seven Wildcats who played double-digit minutes against the Sooners played an important role.
UK needed it badly with a trip to No. 7 being just the next in a series of tough December tests.
“They did dig deep and it’s awesome to see the team do that because this was a very important game for us,” Mitchell said. “We needed to win this game. It’s a tough, tough month ahead and to be able to gut out a victory was great.”