In one of the highest-anticipated matchups of the opening weekend of women’s college basketball, No. 17 Kentucky outscored No. 15 Arizona State by 12 in the second half for a 68-64 overtime win Sunday at Tempe’s Wells Fargo Arena. Sophie Brunner led ASU (0-1) with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and seven rebounds, and Makayla Epps scored 20 in 28 minutes for the Wildcats (2-0).
“We didn’t step up today,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “Kentucky is a very good second half team. They knew what they needed to do. All five starters playing 35 minutes is not what we need, I lost trust in our bench, and I think that hurt us. As good as we can be, we’re too inconsistent.”
After Brunner put ASU ahead 7-2, Kentucky embarked on a 9-0 run topped off with a three from freshman Maci Morris. The Sun Devils scored the first seven of the second quarter, the final five from the hand of Arnecia Hawkins, as they reclaimed the lead, 17-12. An Elisha Davis three made it 20-14, and another smooth jumpshot from her 24-15. ASU would lead 29-17 at the half after Hawkins found Brunner down low for a buzzer beater.
Recording eight of her 10 points in the third, Batouly Camara cut the lead to six with two and a half left in the third for the Wildcats. Janee Thompson’s floater with 14 seconds brought Kentucky within four, and she followed that with a three as time expired for a one-point game, 39-38.
Alexis Jennings christened the fourth quarter by sending the Wildcats to their first lead since it was 2-0 on her game-opening basket. Brunner and Davis responded on the next two possessions to reclaim the lead for ASU, and Brunner knocked down a three to put ASU ahead by four. The Wildcats kept chipping, and ASU forward Kelsey Moos increased the lead back to six with a reverse layup at the two-minute mark. The game seemed to be in control, but quick baskets from Epps and Taylor Murray knotted it at 54-54 with 40.7 to play. Sun Devil guard Katie Hempen answered with a jumper. Epps was sent to the line with seven ticks, as her finger roll did not fall, and the preseason All-SEC guard who had two points the first 35 minutes of the game, iced both. Davis missed a jumpshot from the key to force overtime.
Brunner and Hempen each shot down threes to open overtime for ASU. With a minute and a half remaining, Kentucky’s Murray took a rebound and ran coast-to-coast for a tying layup, 64-64. Davis missed a long three with the shot-clock winding down, and Epps’ floater gave the Cats the lead. Davis missed another three with three seconds, before Epps iced it from the line.
“The first 10 minutes, we weren’t our usual help-side team, we need to get more aggressive,” said Hempen, who finished with 11 points and a game-high five assists. “There’s a lesson in every game, it’s all learning opportunities.”
Thompson finished with 11 points, Jennings blocked four and Evelyn Akhator grabbed 10 rebounds for Kentucky, which controlled the paint, 44-26, and capitalized on 19 points off turnovers, eight on the fast break. It was the first-ever meeting for two of the top women’s programs to never reach a Final Four, and Kentucky, who plays Colorado next week, had not played a Pacific-12 school since 2006.
“It was an unbelievable effort by both teams,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Arizona State physically dominated for most of the game. It looked like we faded, but we were able to get some pressure. The early foul trouble really bothered her (Epps), so she was trying to get her footing into a rhythm. She’s a really talented player. We had a good game from a hustle standpoint, for an inexperienced team, we can grow from this.”
The Sun Devils next are at SMU at noon Saturday, and after a three-game tournament in Hawaii that includes South Carolina, they host the ASU Classic vs VCU Dec. 5. Kentucky hosts Morehead State Wednesday. The Wildcats had opened their season with a 72-39 home win over Rice Friday.