LEXINGTON, Ky. – The road in the Southeastern Conference doesn’t get any easier for the No. 12 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team as the Wildcats start a stretch of four of its next five games on the road when it travels to face Florida, which is receiving votes in both national rankings, on Sunday, Jan.31, at 1 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
“Well, a big challenge to go on the road in Gainesville and play Florida,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said Friday. “They are an excellent basketball team and had a good victory on Thursday (at Arkansas). They create a lot of turnovers for people and that has been a real difficulty for us, so we will have to focus in and practice well and see if we can take care of the ball. They play a lot of people and a really up-tempo team. They are a great rebounding team. It will be another great challenge for us and we will go on the road and try to get a victory.”
Kentucky enters the game with a 15-4 record after dropping a tough home contest to Vanderbilt on Thursday, 71-69. Junior guard Makayla Epps led Kentucky with a game-high 25 points, adding five rebounds and three assists. It marked the third straight game that Epps has scored 20 or more and the 16th time this season she has been in double figures. Senior Janee Thompson was in double figures with 14 points and Evelyn Akhator had 12 points, but Vanderbilt hit a season-best 10 3-pointers to secure the win.
Epps leads Kentucky in scoring this season with 17.1 points per game, while Thompson is averaging 12.5 and Akhator 11.9. Akhator leads UK in rebounding with 9.4 boards a game, while Thompson is averaging 5.4 assists per game and Epps is averaging 4.9 assists per game. As a team, UK is shooting 45.5% from the field, including 36.6% from 3, while limiting teams to 34.9% from the field and 28.2% from 3.
Sunday’s game starts a difficult conference stretch for the Wildcats, who will play four of their next five games away from Memorial Coliseum. After facing the Gators, who have spent time this season in the top 25 of both national polls, Kentucky will travel to No. 2/2 South Carolina next Thursday before hosting the LSU Tigers in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 7.
The Wildcats will have a bye date after hosting the Tigers, before returning to action at Vanderbilt on Sunday, Feb. 14 and ending the road stretch at highly ranked Mississippi State on Thursday, Feb. 18.
Florida enters Sunday’s game with a 17-4 record, including a 9-2 mark at home and 5-3 record in SEC play. The Gators have several wins over ranked foes, including taking down No. 6/7 Florida State the second game of the season before a win at No. 12/11 Tennessee in early January. UF is coming off an overtime victory at Arkansas on Thursday.
The Gators are averaging 80.7 points per game this season, while limiting opponents to 67.4 points per game. Florida is hitting .439 from the field and .300 from 3, while outrebounding opponents by 5.0 rebounds per game this season. Florida is averaging 22.2 turnovers per game, forcing opponents into 24.4 turnovers per game.
Ronni Williams leads the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. Williams is hitting .524 from the field this season. Eleanna Christinaki is also averaging 10.7 points per game for the Gators with a team-best 76 assists, while Simone Westbrook leads the team with 52 steals. Tyshara Fleming has a team-best 38 blocks this season with 5.7 points per game.
The Gators have 10-plus players that are averaging 12 or more minutes per game this season. UF ranks high nationally in several categories, including fifth in the nation in free throw attempts, sixth in free throws made, sixth in rebounds, ninth in offensive rebounds per game, ninth in scoring offense, third in steals and third in turnovers forced.
Sunday’s matchup will mark the 52nd meeting between the two programs, with Kentucky holding the advantage in the all-time series, 27-24. Kentucky has won eight of the last 10 meetings in the series, including two straight.
The Gators won two of three games against Kentucky in 2014, defeating the Wildcats in Memorial on Jan. 5, 2014, 83-73, before taking down UK 86-80 in Gainesville on Feb. 9. UK returned the favor with a win in the SEC Tournament, 75-70, that season. Three of Kentucky’s last four losses against Florida have come in Gainesville. Last season, Kentucky and Florida met just once with UK earning a 62-56 victory over the Gators in Memorial Coliseum.
Matthew Mitchell, who was an assistant coach at Florida back in the early 2000s, is 9-4 all-time against the Gators, including 9-3 during his time at Kentucky.
For the SEC Network, Courtney Lyle (play-by-play) and former Georgia head coach Andy Landers (analyst) will call the action. The game can also be seen online through WatchESPN on computers, tablets or smartphones. For the 11th consecutive season, Neil Price will have the call on the UK Sports Radio Network, heard in Lexington on 630AM WLAP. Live stats and free audio will be available online at UKathletics.com.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught