[caption id="attachment_209000" align="aligncenter" width="600"]
For two weeks last April, news of resignations, transfers and decommitments swirled around Memorial Coliseum and the Joe Craft Center like nothing else.
Left in all the mess were six returners anchored by senior guard Makayla Epps and head coach Matthew Mitchell.
Since then, the Cats have doubled their roster and added three new coaches. The main core of this squad, however, will be their returners.
Game action for Kentucky starts in less than a month when they take the floor for the first time on Nov. 3rd at 7:30 p.m. against Union University in Memorial Coliseum, but last night we got a first look at the new and improved Wildcats at Big Blue Madness. Continuing with the theme, let's take a look at this year's UK Hoops returners.
[caption id="attachment_208987" align="alignleft" width="230"]
Hometown: Lebanon, Kentucky
It's easy to make the argument that Epps has far surpassed her father Anthony's legacy at Kentucky. A hometown ambassador, Epps has been a rock for Kentucky the last three years. Averaging 17.1 points and 35 minutes per game last season, it would be remiss to not to say that, alongside the graduated Janee Thompson, Epps led the Cats last year.
Posing a threat both outside and in, Epps can virtually do it all. She's not afraid to pull up behind the line where she shot 28% last year and let it go but at the same time can push through and take it to the hole where she averaged a 47% field-goal average.
One of two seniors, Epps is going to be this team's leader. Even as a sophomore and junior, Epps was incredibly well spoken and in many instances, was the voice of the team.
[caption id="attachment_208989" align="alignleft" width="226"]
Hometown: Largos, Nigeria
Evelyn Akhator is the Bam of this team. She's insanely strong but has incredibly mobility under the basket. Because of her strength, she can push through anyone to get to the bucket to make the basket or grab the rebound.
A transfer from Chipola Junior College last year, Akhator performed exceedingly well on the big stage for her first season. She avergaed 9.3 rebounds and 11.5 points per game for a 51% field-goal percentage. Now that Akhator is a veteran in the SEC and Division 1 ball, big things are expected.
[caption id="attachment_208990" align="alignleft" width="229"]
Hometown: Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Rice started off last season with ankle injury which left her sidelined until the Louisville game. But even after that, Rice was left in the shadow of Akhator and Alexis Jennings, who transferred after last season to South Carolina.
This season, it's likely that Rice will start along with Akhator in the front court, both are 6'3 which will give the Cats some height against tall backcourts, many of which Kentucky faced last season. Rice was efficient at the goal last year with a 44% field-goal percentage. With just two starts under her belt last year, it will be fun to watch what she does with increased playing time this year.
[caption id="attachment_208992" align="alignleft" width="228"]
Hometown: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Not much is known about Cann. After sitting out last season because of her transfer from the University of Cincinnati, Cann is now eligible to play.
What we do know, is that she can shoot. Cann set records for her high school with most assists (645) and second in shooting (2,207 points). And many times saved the UC Bearcats with her three-point shooting.
Cann will also need some desperately needed height to the back court with Maci Morris, Makayla Epps and Taylor Murray, where the Cats struggled some against taller front courts last season.
[caption id="attachment_208994" align="alignleft" width="230"]
Hometown: Pineville, Kentucky
Bell County's very own Morris lit it up last year. Heralded as a shooter coming out of high school, Morris lived up to the expectations last year. The true freshman shot 40% from the field and 39% from the behind the line.
Many times last year Morris' ability to rip the three brought the Cats to life. Especially in last year's second round game against Oklahoma, Morris pulled the Cats through with four three's of her own.
The only thing that held Morris back last year was her defense. At one point last season, Mitchell equated Morris' defensive skills to his grandma so hopefully the post-season has been good to her in that area.
[caption id="attachment_208995" align="alignleft" width="231"]
Hometown: Odenton, Maryland
Likened to Eric Bledsoe, Murray is a silent killer. Coming off the bench last year, Murray always added that extra burst of energy to the Cats when they needed it. Never afraid to drop her head and drive to the basket despite the defense being a head taller than her at some points.
Murray is quick and feisty and is not afraid to go in. Murray shot 44% from the field and grabbed 73 steals through the course of the season.
Follow me at @haleysimpKSR
, Savannah Patton at @savannahpattKSR
and Maggie Davis at @MaggieDavisKSR
on Twitter for updates on women's basketball throughout the season.