No. 10 Kentucky edges No. 13 Mississippi State in 2OT

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Considering how everything else fell into place for Kentucky guard Makayla Epps, it figured that the ball ended up in her hands one last time with a chance to win a tense game.

Nor was it shocking that Epps put in the soft shot to spark a wild celebration by the Wildcats.

Epps' basket as time expired in the second overtime capped the sophomore guard's career-best 42-point game and gave No. 10 Kentucky a 92-90 victory over No. 13 Mississippi State Thursday night. On a night that was crazy by any definition, one given was that she'd somehow figure in the final sequence that began with her dribbling down the final 35 seconds in an attempt to set up the last shot.

Epps' first jumper missed and the ball nearly ended up out of bounds in the ensuing scramble before Jelleah Sydney pushed it back in to her teammate.

Then came the short game-winner for the Wildcats (19-5, 8-3 Southeastern Conference).

"It was crazy," Epps said of the sequence. "Complete craziness. They put the ball in my hands and wanted me to run the clock down. Same thing happened in the Tennessee game (a 73-72 loss). They tipped it but all 12 of my teammates crashed the glass on that one.

"Jelleah Sydney sometimes has a tendency to throw the ball real hard at us. She threw it really hard and it was bouncing off faces, noses and ears. I looked up and it was right there, and it was like, `go get it Epps.' As soon as I let it go, I was out."

Epps matched Valerie Still (1982) for the second-highest scoring total in program history behind Jennifer O'Neill's 43 points against Baylor in a four-overtime victory last season. Epps made 18 of 30 from the field including two 3-pointers that helped the Wildcats win their third in a row.

"Somehow, someway, we were tough enough to win," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought we really hustled there at the last second. We were able to make one more play to win the game. Big win for us."

Epps also won a scoring duel with Bulldogs freshman forward Victoria Vivians, whose career-high 39 points with five 3s gave Mississippi State (23-4, 9-4) chances to win. Martha Alwal added 21 points and eight rebounds and Dominique Dillingham had 12 rebounds.

"If she wasn't (in the game in the first half), it's probably a 20-25-point game," Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said of Vivians. "She put us on her back in the first half until I could get everybody else woke up. ... She's one of the best players in the country. I don't care what anybody says. She's a tough, fierce competitor and she wants the ball. She's not scared."

Neither was Epps, who scored 15 points in the extra 10 minutes including eight in the final session. Bria Goss added 16 points and O'Neill nine for the Wildcats, who seemed to have things under control leading 65-53 with 6 1/2 minutes left in regulation before the Bulldogs rallied to force OT and nearly end their five-year drought against Kentucky.

Vivians scored the go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the first OT during a strange sequence that also resulted in two free throws for Morgan William, who fed her for the shot. William made one for an 83-81 lead before Epps' jumper with 11 seconds left gave Kentucky another lifeline.


Mississippi State: The Bulldogs outrebounded Kentucky 57-46. ... William had 13 points, six assists and four rebounds.

Kentucky: The Wildcats scored 33 points off 27 turnovers. ... Linnae Harper and Azia Bishop added eight points each and combined for 11 rebounds. ... Earlier in the day, the program announced that ESPN has flexed its March 1 season finale against current No. 1 South Carolina from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. It will be shown on ESPN2.


Mississippi State: Hosts Florida on Sunday.

Kentucky: Visits No. 6 Tennessee on Sunday.