Eighth-Ranked Kentucky Women Face No. 13 Duke In Rupp Arena Showdown Sunday Night; Contest Televised
LEXINGTON, Ky.— After finishing the final exams, the No. 8 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will host its second of two regular-season games inside Rupp Arena on Sunday, welcoming No. 13 Duke to the Bluegrass for a 7 p.m. ET tipoff.
“I’m proud of the players for completing final exams," said UK coach Matthew Mitchell (pictured). "We’re looking for a strong semester academically. They had to work hard this week, and we finished up last night. Maci Morris took her last one last night at 6. So the team’s done with exams. That clearly has been the main focus of this week.
"So now we’re turning our attention toward Duke. They are an outstanding team. Very, very talented. A well-coached team. And really, with a lot of players who played in the game last year returning, we had a bunch of problems. So it’s a real challenge for us. I think that (Azurá) Stevens and (Rebecca) Greenwell are a tremendous 1-2 punch that pose real problems, and the rest of the players are very talented and can do a lot of things offensively.
"And defensively, just their size—a very big team. They’re disruptive with different combinations of zone and man-to-man, so just a really tough team. A big challenge for us. I thought our players had good preparation today. We have to have good preparation tomorrow and Sunday morning, and see if we can come out and win what would be just a huge game for us. We need a big crowd out there too, we need to sell it out.”
The game will be televised nationally on SEC Network with Paul Sunderland, Carolyn Peck and Steffi Sorensen calling the action. The game can also be seen through WatchESPN through computers, smartphones and tablets. For the 11th consecutive season Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Network. Fans in Lexington can hear Price’s call on 630AM WLAP.
Kentucky (9-0) is off to one of the best starts in program history, becoming the fifth team to start the season off with nine consecutive wins. The Wildcats are ranked No. 8 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today/Coaches Top 25 for the second consecutive week after cracking the top 10 in both listings the week prior. The rankings extend UK’s school-record rankings streak to 120 weeks. Duke also reprised its rankings from last week, holding the No. 13 spot in the AP Top 25 while ranked No. 11 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll.
Sunday’s contest will be the first action the Wildcats have seen in a week, as they picked up their previous victory seven days prior on a road trip to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to battle Conference USA title contender Middle Tennessee. Makayla Epps paced the team with 17 points, four assists and three steals in the 68-52 victory. Her stat line from the 72-54 victory over in-state rival Louisville on Thursday was even more impressive, going 10-of-11 from the field for a season-best 24 points and the most efficient performance by a Wildcat since 1987. For her tremendous week, Epps was named both the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week and the espnW National Player of the Week.
The Wildcats have used strong defense and an efficient offense to post some impressive numbers this season and rank high nationally in several categories. Defensively, Kentucky ranks ninth in the nation and second in the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage defense at 32.6%, while allowing opponents 53.7 points per game, which ranks just outside the top-25. On the offensive end, UK sits in the top-10 nationally in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage, and is fifth in the nation in scoring margin.
Epps’ last week was far from an outlier for the junior, as she leads the team in scoring with 17.3 points per game to go with 5.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. Janee Thompson is second in scoring with 13.8 ppg to go with 6.5 apg, while UK’s other three starters of Evelyn Akhator, Alexis Jennings and Maci Morris are all averaging 10 or more points per contest.
Duke enters the game as the No. 13 team in the nation, marking the 303rd straight week that the Blue Devils have been ranked in the AP Top 25. Duke is 9-2 on the young season, with losses to No. 18 Texas A&M and No. 2 South Carolina. The Blue Devils most recently picked up wins over UMass and Liberty with an average margin of victory of 31.0 points.