NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Makayla Epps had 31 points as Kentucky rallied from 15 points down in the second half to reach the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals with a 76-67 win over No. 11 Mississippi State on Friday night.
Epps was 12 of 21 from the field as the No. 12 Wildcats (22-8) used a 24-4 run to come back after being down 54-39 in the second half.
Sixth-seeded Kentucky, which will face No. 5 and second-seeded Tennessee on Saturday, has reached the tournament semifinals in six straight seasons.
Jennifer O’Neil added 18 points for the Wildcats, who finished 25 of 51 (49 percent) from the field and improved to 2-0 this season against the Bulldogs.
“I was real proud of our team,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We got back to our full-court press and really started pressuring, and it really changed the game.”
Victoria Vivians led third-seeded Mississippi State (26-6) with 19 points, while Martha Alwal added 17 and Breanna Richardson 12. The Bulldogs were trying to reach the tournament semifinals for the first time in five years.
Kentucky defeated Mississippi State 92-90 in double overtime last month, and the offensive show continued in the first half — with Alwal going 5 of 5 from the field as the Bulldogs led by as many as 10 points and took a 41-37 halftime lead.
Epps had a career-high 42 points in a double-overtime win over Mississippi State on Feb. 12, and she added to her offensive mastery of the Bulldogs. The sophomore had 16 points in the first half, and her 31 points were her second-highest total of the season.
After Vivians put Mississippi State up 54-39 with a steal and fast-break layup early in the second half, the Wildcats answered with a 24-4 run to go up 63-58. Epps had 11 straight Kentucky points at one point during the run, including a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 61-58.
Kentucky finished 12 of 23 (52.2 percent) from the field in the second half, while the Bulldogs were 22 of 60 (36.7 percent) from the field overall and 7 of 27 in the second half.
“I thought they took us out of a lot of things because of how hard they played defensively,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “And then, obviously, we had a hard time guarding Epps. She probably wants to see me in a best out of seven (series), I’m sure.”
Kentucky: Epps now has 73 points in two games this season against Mississippi State ... Bria Goss was 0-for-3 from the field, but she was 8 of 8 on free throws — all in the second half as the Wildcats held on to the lead late in the game.
Mississippi State: Vivians missed more than three minutes of action in the second half after her right thumbnail was ripped off during play. She returned with a bandage on her thumb, but Kentucky had already surged ahead by then.
The Wildcats face Tennessee on Friday.
Mississippi State now waits to hear its place in the NCAA Tournament.