LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Whether taking jumpers or driving the lane, Kentucky guard Makayla Epps was nearly perfect against archrival Louisville.
Epps made 10 of 11 shots en route to a season-high 24 points to lead No. 8 Kentucky past the Cardinals 72-54 on Thursday night in the annual battle for Bluegrass women's basketball supremacy.
Epps' hot hand quickly set the tone for the Wildcats (8-0), who shot 52 percent and led throughout to win their fifth in a row in the series.
The junior guard, whose father Anthony was the starting point guard on the Wildcats' 1996 NCAA men's championship team, scored five straight points late in the third period after Louisville twice got within 10, providing a cushion that wasn't seriously threatened.
Then again, Epps had no choice but to take advantage against a Cardinals defense that inexplicably left her open early on.
Asked if she was surprised by that strategy, Epps answered, "I really was. I don't know if Louisville thinks I can't shoot, but if that's what they think, that's fine."
Alexis Jennings added 14 points and eight rebounds, Taylor Murray scored 11 points and Janee Thompson 10 for Kentucky, which controlled the paint 30-18 and outrebounded the young Cardinals 36-27.
Briahanna Jackson scored 18 points while Myisha Hines-Allen had 16 for Louisville (3-5), which shot 36 percent and had its modest two-game winning streak end. The game drew 14,425 to Rupp Arena, home of Kentucky's powerhouse men's team.
Evelyn Akhator had nine rebounds for Kentucky, which needed no heroics after using second-half rallies to win the past three against Louisville.
In a season that was preceded by the transfers of two Kentucky players and the dismissal of another before junior forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers requested a transfer last week, this victory was satisfying on many levels. The Wildcats have bragging rights for another year and earned a signature win, not bad for a team fielding nine players.
Kentucky made its four shots including a 3-pointer en route to making 53 percent by the break, including 5 of 10 from long range. Epps got things going with frequent drives and some jumpers against Louisville's slow-reacting defense, and backcourt mates Maci Morris (eight points) and Murray joined the fun from inside and outside as well.
"Not one time did we get three stops in a row," said Louisville coach Jeff Walz, clearly bothered by his team's lack of intensity. "You can't win many games like that."
Other than some rough spots featuring turnovers and a bunch of missed layups, the Wildcats were pretty consistent all night. The opportunities were certainly there and Kentucky seized them — especially Epps, who scored six points during Kentucky's 10-2 run that ended with a 39-22 halftime lead.
"Our players weren't perfect, but they battled really hard," said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, whose team improved to 34-18 in the series. "We're always happy to get a victory and always happy to get a victory in this series."
Louisville: The Cardinals shot just 2 of 11 from 3-point range. ... Walz didn't speak to reporters until nearly half an hour passed following Kentucky players' availability on the dias.
Kentucky: Sophomore forward Alyssa Rice made her season debut with 47 seconds remaining in the first period. She missed the first seven games with a stress reaction in her right foot but had one rebound and one foul in four minutes.
WE'LL BE BACK
Kentucky will host Duke at Rupp on Dec. 20 and it might not be the Wildcats' last appearance here this season. The school already will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at its Memorial Coliseum home a couple of miles away and might not have to leave town with the regional final being held at Rupp. Much depends on their record and tournament seeding, but the chance of reaching their first Final Four in familiar surroundings is an enticing incentive.
Kentucky women's basketball spokesman Evan Crane said that a female spectator was transported from Rupp to a hospital during the first half. No further information was immediately provided on the fan, who was lifted down stairs and on to a stretcher by medical personnel.
Louisville hosts IUPUI on Sunday.
Kentucky visits Middle Tennessee on Sunday.
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