Kentucky's Epps expecting to play against Washington

Mar 24, 2016 - 7:49 PM LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky guard Makayla Epps is not letting a little shoulder pain stop her from trying to give the Wildcats the happiest of homecomings.

Epps, a first-team all-Southeastern Conference performer, briefly left Kentucky's second-round victory Monday over Oklahoma with a sprained right shoulder. She returned later in the game and expects to play Friday when the third-seeded Wildcats (25-7) face No. 7 seed Washington (24-10) in a Lexington Regional semifinal at Rupp Arena, within walking distance of Kentucky's campus.

''Of course I still have a little pain and soreness, but that's expected,'' Epps said Thursday. It's ''nothing that's going to hinder me from playing tomorrow.''

Epps, who averages a team-high 16.6 points per game, said she's at ''about 80'' percent as she tries to lead Kentucky to its first Final Four appearance. The winner of Friday's game plays either No. 1 seed Notre Dame (33-1) or No. 4 seed Stanford (26-7) on Sunday.

The Wildcats could earn that elusive Final Four bid without ever leaving Lexington.

As a No. 3 seed, Kentucky earned the right to play its first two games on campus at Memorial Coliseum. Now the Wildcats move downtown to Rupp Arena.

NCAA rules prevent a team from being assigned to an arena where it played more than three regular-season games, not including conference tournaments. Kentucky has played only twice at Rupp Arena this season. Although Rupp is the home court for the Kentucky men, the women play most of their home games at Memorial.

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell acknowledged the benefits of playing nearby while also noting his team lost at home to Dayton in last year's tournament and No. 2 seeds Maryland and Arizona State fell on their home floors last week. Maryland's loss came against Washington.

''I would love to go to a Final Four,'' Mitchell said. ''That's been a goal of our program and a dream of all of ours, and we believe we're going to do it one day and we hope it's this year. But it won't be because the Rupp Arena floor jumps up and makes any baskets. The building won't get it done for us. The players will.''

Washington's accustomed to winning big games on the road. The Huskies are 8-4 in true road games and 4-2 at neutral sites this season, which has enabled them to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001.

''We've been playing a lot of close games all year on the road,'' Washington guard Kelsey Plum said. ''The Pac-12 conference has really helped us. There have been some really tough teams that we've had to face on the road this year, so I think that's prepared us for this game.''

The Huskies need another big performance from Plum, who averages 26.3 points per game to rank fourth among all Division I players. She scored 32 points against Maryland.


Some things to watch when Washington faces Kentucky.

HUSKIES' LACK OF DEPTH: Washington used only six players against Maryland. Its lone substitute in that game - Mathilde Gilling - injured her left knee in the closing minutes. Gilling's availability for Friday remains uncertain.

SEC vs. PAC-12: This represents a matchup between two conferences that each sent four teams to the regional semifinals The Pac-12 is 9-1 in the NCAA Tournament this season, but its lone loss came to an SEC team when Arizona State fell to Tennessee. This marks the first time the Pac-12 has sent as many as four teams to the Sweet 16.

DOES EXPERIENCE MATTER?: Kentucky is much more used to being on this stage. The Wildcats are in the regional semifinals for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Before this season, Washington hadn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 2006.

PLUM'S ABILITY TO DRAW FOULS: Kentucky must be careful with Plum, who has a knack for drawing contact. Plum leads all Division I players in free throws made (247) and attempted (276). She also ranks fifth in free-throw percentage (.895) and was 13 of 14 from the line against Maryland.

WILDCATS' HISTORY AT RUPP: Kentucky owns a 6-5 record at Rupp Arena during Mitchell's nine-year coaching tenure. The Wildcats have won five of their last six games at Rupp, including victories over Duke and Louisville this season.

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