Wildcats Conclude Season with 7th Straight Top 25 Final Ranking
LEXINGTON, Ky. – After earning its seventh straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, including its fifth trip to the Sweet 16 during that stretch, the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team ends the 2015-16 season at No. 15 in the USA Today/Coaches Top 25 for the seventh straight season.
The No. 15 final ranking by the publication is the fourth-best final ranking in program history for the Wildcats, who finished No. 8 in 2011-12 and 2012-13, No. 9 in 2009-10, and No. 11 in 20013-14. Kentucky was ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press Postseason Top 25, also marking the seventh straight season UK has been top 20 in that final listing.
The ranking extends Kentucky’s school-record stretch of being ranked in the top 25 to 133 consecutive weeks. The Wildcats entered the AP Top 25 on week 12 of the 2009-10 season, while it entered the USA Today/Coaches Top 25 in Week 11 of the same season. Kentucky has not fallen out of the top 25 since.
Kentucky ended the season with a 25-8 record, marking its seventh straight 20-win season and the sixth 25-win season in the last seven years under head coach Matthew Mitchell. Prior to Mitchell, Kentucky had only won 20+ games 10 times, while only record one 25+ win season. Overall, Mitchell is 219-89 in nine full seasons at Kentucky, continuing his record of the winningest head coach in program history. Mitchell earned win No. 200 on Nov. 29 against Jackson State, becoming the eighth fastest Southeastern Conference women’s basketball coach to 200 wins.
After starting the season by tying the program record with 11 straight wins, Kentucky finished 10-6 in conference play to earn its seventh straight top-four SEC finish. The impressive league finish was accomplished after an eight-game winning streak, including six straight SEC wins by 10+ points for the first time in program history. The winning streak continued to the SEC Tournament Semifinals – the eighth time under Mitchell UK has advanced to the final four of the event.
The impressive regular season led Kentucky to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament as the Wildcats were selected to host the first and second rounds of the event for the third straight season. The top-three seed in the event marked the fifth straight for UK, who advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the past seven seasons, one of only seven schools nationally to claim that honor.
Kentucky went 8-3 against ranked opponents during the season, marking the best winning percentage against ranked foes in program history. UK started its run against ranked opponents the very first week of the season, taking down then-No. 15 Arizona State in Tempe, before taking down then-No. 13 Duke at Rupp Arena in late December. In SEC play, Kentucky defeated then-No. 18 Tennessee, then-No. 14 Mississippi State, then-No. 24 Missouri, then-No. 11 Texas A&M and then-No. 25 Florida. The only ranked foe UK played in the NCAA Tournament was No. 24 Oklahoma, defeating the Sooners, 79-58. During the course of the season, UK also defeated Louisville, Georgia and Auburn, who all were receiving votes when UK defeated them and eventually made the NCAA Tournament.
In 42 years of varsity women’s basketball, Kentucky has 85 wins over ranked opponents, including 44 of those wins coming under Mitchell.
Kentucky concluded the season ranked high in several national categories, including 18th nationally and third in the SEC in field-goal percentage at 45.5% and 26th nationally and second in the league in 3-point field-goal percentage at 35.6%. UK also ranked 24th nationally and second in the SEC in scoring offense (74.7 ppg) and 16th in the nation and second in the league in scoring margin (+14.1).
The staff and players made a point this offseason to improve its offense and accomplished that task significantly. The Wildcats shot 39.9% from the field and 28.6% from 3-point land in 2014-15, jumping up nearly six percentage points in field-goal percentage and seven percentage points from 3. UK also posted a +5.5 rebounding margin after a -2.3 mark in 2014-15 and averaged nearly four more assists per game this season than last season.
Individually, Kentucky was led by junior guard Makayla Epps, who led the in scoring with 17.1 points per game, hitting at a .473 clip from the field with 4.4 assists per game. Epps has a lengthy list of honors from the season, including becoming the fourth player in program history to earn multiple SEC All-Tournament Team honors and becoming only the third player in the Mitchell era to be named first-team All-SEC multiple seasons. A First Team All-American by CollegeSportsMadness.com, Epps was named to the 30-member Wade Trophy Watch List, was a member of the Naismith Trophy Women’s College Player of the Year Midseason 30 Watch List and Dawn Staley Award Midseason Watch List. The junior was the espnW National Player of the Week and SEC Player of the Week on Dec. 14 for her strong outings against Louisville and Middle Tennessee State. Epps was also named a WBCA All-America Honorable Mention selection.
Senior guard Janee Thompson and junior forward Evelyn Akhator were named All-SEC performers by league coaches, while Akhator earned a SEC Player of the Week honor. Thompson led UK with 56 3-pointers made, scoring 12.6 points per game and averaging 4.7 assists per game. Akhator paced Kentucky with 13 double-doubles on the season, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game and 11.5 points per game. Freshman guard Maci Morris was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team by league coaches after starting every game and hitting 49 3-pointers with 8.5 points per game.
For the first time since 2006-07, two Kentucky players reached 1,000 career points in the same season as Epps became the 31st player in the 1,000-point club in February before Thompson accomplished the feat against Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore post Alexis Jennings scored 10.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game with six double-doubles on the year, while freshman forward Batouly Camara started 14 games and averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Alyssa Rice missed the first part of the season with an injury, but played in 26 games with two starts. Freshman guard Taylor Murray played in all 33 games and led the team with 56 steals, adding 6.8 points per game and 73 assists.
For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @UKHoopCats on Twitter and Instagram, or Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook.