LEXINGTON, KY. >> Janee Thompson scored 16 points, including nine straight over the third and fourth quarters, to help No. 3 seed Kentucky beat sixth-seeded Oklahoma 79-58 for a second-round NCAA Tournament victory on Monday night.
The Wildcats (25-7) earned their fifth Sweet 16 berth in seven seasons and will play a few blocks away from campus at Rupp Arena, home of the men's team. Thompson deserves credit for helping her team get there after a tense stretch that featured a big hand from hobbled teammate Makayla Epps.
An injured right shoulder forced Epps to briefly leave the game in the third quarter before she returned to grab a key offensive rebound leading to Thompson's jumper and a 50-44 lead. Epps (13 points) and Thompson followed with 3-pointers before the senior opened the fourth quarter with six free throws for a 62-49 lead that Kentucky steadily expanded.
Gioya Carter's 12 points led Oklahoma (22-11).
Alexis Jennings added 13 points, Maci Morris 12 on four 3-pointers and Evelyn Akhator 11 as all eight Kentucky players scored. And the Wildcats certainly needed that balance in a physical, hard-fought game featuring 43 combined fouls.
Kentucky, which will face seven-seed Washington in the Sweet 16, took advantage to make 29 of 38 attempts, compared to 16 of 19 for the Sooners. Epps made 10 of 14, including several while favoring the shoulder that was injured in a tumble with Carter early in the third. Her 3-pointer was the only field goal in a 1-of-6 night shooting.
Fortunately for Epps, others stepped up to fill the void for Kentucky in a game it shot 38 percent from the field while holding the Sooners to 27 percent.
Morris came out with the hot hand, making three 3-pointers to help the Wildcats emerge with a 20-19 lead after a back-and-forth first quarter. The freshman's long-range accuracy was certainly necessary with the Sooners' effective defense on Epps, forcing her to the foul line for many of her points.
Kentucky then scored seven unanswered points over 3:45 for the first of several eight-point leads in a second quarter that seemed to wear down Oklahoma. Besides making just 8 of 31 (26 percent) from the field, the Sooners didn't get off a shot on their final possessions and trailed 35-27 at halftime.
Kentucky briefly stretched its lead to 40-29 before Oklahoma rallied to within 42-40 behind five straight points by Carter. Her foul on Epps looked to be critical as well as it affected the junior's motion and mood.
Epps returned a few minutes later and played on to give Kentucky some breathing room with those key plays — many of which were finished by Thompson, who made 7 of 8 from the line.
Oklahoma: Fell to 30-17 in the NCAA Tournament under Sherri Coale. ... Kaylon Williams (nine points) was called for a technical foul in the second quarter resulting in Kentucky's Janee Thompson making one of two free throws.
Kentucky: Improved to 15-6 in the NCAA Tournament under coach Matthew Mitchell.
Oklahoma: Season over.
Kentucky: Lexington Region semifinal against Washington on Friday.