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Cats overcome absence of senior leader Thompson, top Arkansas for fourth straight victory

Kentucky was cruising.

The Wildcats led Arkansas by 17 points early in the second quarter and poised for a blowout win, but then Janee Thompson went down with an ankle injury.

Makayla Epps goes up for a shot in UK's win over Arkansas Sunday (UK Athletics Photo)

Makayla Epps goes up for a shot in UK’s win over Arkansas Sunday (UK Athletics Photo)

“Janee, that’s our senior, that’s our leader,” Makayla Epps said. “We all got a lot of love and respect for her. Whenever she went down, I told the team, ‘Play for Janee,’ because I know she would want to be out here.”

Without its point guard, UK lost rhythm on both ends of the floor. The Cats (19-6, 8-6 Southeastern Conference), however, were able to gut out a 77-63 victory – their fourth straight – over the visiting Razorbacks (11-16, 6-8 SEC).

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 77, Arkansas 63

“It was a great win for us,” Mitchell said. “Really, really happy to earn that victory. It was a great week for us. The team started last Tuesday really working hard to try to get ready for an important week and to go 2-0, just fantastic. And today’s game was tough.”

Arkansas cut UK’s lead to seven points on two occasions in a lackluster third quarter for the Cats. The offense stalled and the Razorbacks found holes in UK’s defense, leading to some discouragement.

“Some people were getting frustrated,” Epps said. “A lot of people were getting negative, some of the younger players, just because we had a really big lead and it was getting cut into. We couldn’t really find a solution to the problem.”

In past years or even earlier this season, Mitchell might have delivered a fire-and-brimstone speech entering the final 10 minutes. But recognizing that was not what his team needed and heeding the team-wide focus on staying positive, he didn’t go that direction.

“It was a very discouraging third quarter, but at the end of it, we were up nine points,” Mitchell said. “And I told them, ‘After three quarters, you have earned a nine-point lead. Let’s see if we can increase that in the fourth quarter, but we don’t need to be down and out because we struggled in that quarter.’ ”

The approach worked perfectly.

“We just turned it around,” said Epps, who overcame an off shooting day to score 16 points and grab seven rebounds. “Coach, he didn’t get negative with us, he didn’t get made with us. He was real positive in the huddle going into the fourth. I think that kind of pepped the team up because the team might have suspected him to be mad at us going into the fourth.”

Thompson, meanwhile, watched from the bench. She tested the ankle in the nearby team practice gym, but could not move laterally without pain. She’ll now begin her recovery work.

“It’s a sprained ankle,” Mitchell said. “We don’t know anything definite right now, but we’re hoping that will be just a sprain that she can recover from by Thursday. I know she would love to play Thursday night for Senior Night.”

From UK Athletics

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