No. 3 Kentucky thrashes UNC Asheville 85-31 in NCAA opener
GARY B. GRAVES
Mar. 19, 2016
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Any concerns Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell had about his team being rusty from a two-week layoff were quelled emphatically by the Wildcats.
Makayla Epps scored 24 points and third-seeded Kentucky routed No. 14 seed UNC Asheville 85-31 on Saturday for its biggest NCAA Tournament victory margin in school history.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats (24-7) shot 50 percent from the field to easily win their ninth straight opening-round game. The past seven wins have come under coach Matthew Mitchell, whose team also allowed their fewest points in a tournament game and lowest shooting percentage (20.6).
The performance was just what Mitchell wanted after South Carolina drilled Kentucky by 30 points two weeks ago in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
"I think our good play was fueled by a good healthy respect for Asheville," Mitchell said. "Today was not perfect, but we don't have to be perfect; we just have to have great attitudes. I thought the players hustled, I thought we bounced back from some mistakes we made and improved in the game."
Kentucky advanced to face No. 6 seed Oklahoma in the second round on Monday.
Epps shot effectively all day in making 10 of 20 from the field for Kentucky. Taylor Murray and Evelyn Akhator each shot 5 of 7 to combine for 21 points, while Janee Thompson had 13 despite 4-of-11 shooting.
The Wildcats meanwhile held UNC Asheville (26-7) to season lows in scoring and shooting percentage and dominated the boards 50-31 in rolling to their third straight first-round win by 40-plus points.
Tianna Knuckles' eight points led UNC Asheville, which had its five-game winning streak ended.
Batouly Camara had 11 rebounds and five points as Kentucky improved to 15-2 at Memorial Coliseum in dominating fashion. The Wildcats owned the paint 50-16, their bench outscored the Bulldogs 24-6 and they scored 18 points off 15 turnovers.
"They played the defense we were aware they were capable of playing," Bulldogs coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick said of Kentucky. "At the beginning we were not on our heels in terms of our mentality, we were trying to execute the best we could against what they were doing. But what they were doing was exceptional."
Kentucky has done this often under Mitchell, and Kentucky had little to worry about as Epps' shooting fueled a quick start that forced UNC Asheville to play catch-up throughout.
The junior guard made four of her first five shots including a 3-pointer to get Kentucky going toward 50 percent shooting and a 24-11 lead after one quarter. Neither she nor the Wildcats cooled off much in extending their edge to 37-16 at halftime, an effort that featured good defense.
Kentucky used its size advantage to deny UNC Asheville inside and force the Bulldogs into perimeter shots in an effort to cut their deficit. The shots didn't fall for UNC Asheville — which made just 3 of 25 from behind the arc — and the Wildcats were there to grab rebounds and set up successful possessions.
"Coach Mitchell told us if we start off fast and the ball's bouncing in our favor, then that's good," Epps said. "If not and it's kind of lopsided, going back-and-forth then that's OK, too. He always tells us no lead is too big and no deficit is too big to come back from."
UNC Asheville: Leading scorer Chatori Major finished with seven points and four rebounds. K.J. Weaver had a team-high eight boards.
Kentucky: The Wildcats have won their past three tournament openers by an average margin of 48 points.
UNC Asheville: Season over.
Kentucky: Faces Oklahoma on Monday night.