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JAMIE H. VAUGHT: UK Seniors Makayla Epps, Evelyn Akhator Will Be Missed

When you reflect about the current version of UK women’s basketball team, you’d think about its two senior stars -- 5-10 guard Makayla Epps and 6-3 forward Evelyn Akhator (pictured, No. 13).

And these two Sporting News pre-season All-Americans won’t be around much longer so enjoy while you can during the post-season tournament action.

The duo of Epps and Akhator, along with its strong supporting cast like Taylor Murray, Maci Morris, Alyssa Rice and Makenzie Cann, have guided the team to a remarkable 20-9 mark, including 11-5 in SEC, against one of the nation’s toughest schedules, going into this week’s conference tournament in Greenville, S.C. The Wildcats, so far, have beaten No. 3 Mississippi State, and other Top 25 clubs Oklahoma, Miami (Florida), and Missouri.

Without its two scholarship seniors, Kentucky would’ve been in a bad shape this season.

Epps, a former Miss Kentucky Basketball from Marion County High School, is leading the team in scoring with an average of 16.9 points – No. 7 in SEC -- along a club-high 108 assists. Akhator, a Nigeria native who transferred to UK after two years at Chipola Community College in Florida where she was named the national junior college player of the year, is averaging 15.3 points and tops the squad with an average of 10.5 rebounds, the third-best in the league.

It was announced that both were also named to the first team All-SEC by the league coaches Tuesday.

It doesn’t hurt that Epps (pictured, No. 25 with athletics director Mitch Barnhart), who was recently named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list for nation’s most outstanding player, is a popular figure in Kentucky with an electrifying personality.

“She just connects so well with people,” said UK coach Matthew Mitchell in last week’s press conference. “She has a beautiful spirit about her. She has a great heart for people. She, I think, takes that extra few seconds maybe to connect with a fan that might be the only interaction they ever have but she takes the time to connect with people because she cares and she has a caring heart.”

The Wildcat fans also like Epps’ connection to the past when her dad, Anthony Epps, was a starting point guard at Kentucky, helping the Cats capture the 1996 national championship. And you more than likely have seen an old picture of her father holding her – a toddler -- when the elder Epps was honored on Senior Day at Rupp Arena. She even wore a Wildcat cheerleading uniform that day, too.

“I think her lineage is important,” Mitchell added. “I think her dad having success here on a really important team in our men’s basketball history is just a big, big part of the fabric of our Commonwealth. So, his success, and then you have a daughter that comes along and signs with Kentucky and goes to Kentucky, I think that adds to that and then the success our program’s had. She’s had some incredible moments here as a player.

“But I don’t think any of that would matter if she weren’t the pe