MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell wondered how his Wildcats would react to a quick turnaround after an emotional win over in-state rival Louisville. A traditionally tough opponent on the road only upped the difficulty.
His Wildcats made sure their coach didn’t need to worry too much.
Makayla Epps scored 17 points, Maci Morris and Taylor Murray added 10 each and the eighth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats beat Middle Tennessee 68-52 on Sunday to remain undefeated.
”This was going to be a real hard game for us, real hard game,” Mitchell said. ”We put a lot into this whole week. We had to get better for ourselves. We had to prepare for two real tough opponents. Go on the road for the second one with very little preparation time. So this was a hard game, and I’m real proud we won.”
The Wildcats (9-0) now are two wins shy of matching their 11-0 start to the 2013-14 season, and they used their depth in adding their latest victory. All nine Wildcats who played scored, and Kentucky had a 19-2 scoring edge with its bench.
Middle Tennessee (4-4) had a three-game winning streak snapped. Brea Edwards led the Blue Raiders with 15 points. Ty Petty added 14, and Olivia Jones had 10.
”They made us do things that we hadn’t been made to do in a pretty good while,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell said.
Kentucky dominated in the paint, outscoring Middle Tennessee 40-24. The Wildcats also forced 26 turnovers and turned those into 21 points. Epps had a team-high three steals and said those turnovers are proof they played hard.
”I think he’s going to be happy when he sees the box score with 26 turnovers,” Epps said.
The Wildcats finished the first quarter on a 16-3 run for an 18-8 lead and never trailed after that. Kentucky built that to a 12-point lead before Petty got Middle Tennessee going by scoring nine points in the second and the Blue Raiders outscored the Wildcats 20-17 in the quarter. Rebecca Reuter’s jumper just before the buzzer pulled Middle Tennessee within 35-28 at halftime.
Kentucky was at its best in the third, hitting 10 of 14 shots all inside the arc to push the lead to as many as 17 points on a bucket by Alexis Jennings with 2:45 left. Kentucky led 60-48 at the end of the third, and the offense for both teams dried up in the fourth as they combined for just 12 points.
Kentucky: The Wildcats now have won four straight in this series and improved to 5-3 against Middle Tennessee on the road. They lead the series 14-4 overall. … Kentucky was only 1 of 6 from 3-point range. … The Wildcats had 10 steals.
Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders now are 4-47 all-time against ranked opponents and 3-18 at the Murphy Center. Three of those four wins have come under Insell. … Edwards not only was Middle Tennessee’s leading scorer, she also leads Conference USA and has been shooting 50 percent beyond the arc. She was 2 of 7 beyond the arc.
”Her basketball savvy, her basketball IQ, she’s got more of it in her body than all the rest of his players put together,” Insell said of Epps, who led Kentucky with three steals.
Middle Tennessee honored Jones before the game. She’s the 29th player in school history with 1,000 points, a mark she reached Nov. 30, and the Blue Raiders hadn’t been home until Sunday. The junior forward came into this game with 1,018 points.
Kentucky hosts No. 13 Duke on Dec. 20.
Middle Tennessee hosts Missouri State on Thursday.