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December 2, 2012LOUISVILLE - It was quality, not quantity for Kentucky's Janee Thompson.
She only played 16 minutes on Sunday, and none in the first half. But when the freshman was in, she made the most of her opportunities, scoring 13 second-half points and making the crucial shot in No. 8 Kentucky's 48-47 win against No. 6 Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center.
With the Wildcats trailing by two and the shot clock running down, Thompson frantically dribbled at the top of the key, looking for a seam. Nothing was there, so she created.
Thompson's step-back three-pointer with 8.4 seconds left in the game gave the Wildcats a 48-47 lead, their first since early in the first half.
"I was happy, because I knew it wasn't the best play," Thompson said. "It wasn't the prettiest play, because I was just dribbling everywhere. But I was really happy that the shot went in."
The end result of Thompson's organized chaos sent the Cats into a jubilation, but her indecisiveness during the play left teammates and coaches confused and worried.
"I was right beside her for the 20 seconds she was dribbling," senior A'dia Mathies said. "I was just like, 'I don't know.' I looked at Coach (Matthew Mitchell), but then she shot and it went in and I was just so excited that we got up by one and was able to hold them off."
Odds were against Thompson hitting the game-winning the three. The Cats were only 2-of-15 from deep prior to the shot, and 6-foot-2 Sara Hammond was draped all over the smaller Thompson.
"Big props to Janee, I don't think she would have heard the end of it if she hadn't made that shot," Mathies said.
On Louisville's final possession, guard Bria Smith went the length of the floor, flying past Cat defenders but her potential game-winning layup was blocked by Azia Bishop and time expired.
It was UK's first win at U of L since 1999, and the first by a road team in the rivalry since 2007.
But it felt more like a neutral-site game for the Cats than a hostile road environment. A crowd announced at 15,453 fans attended Sunday's game, many of them a part of the Big Blue Nation.
The environment was so raucous that Mathies thought it was a better atmosphere than an NCAA tournament game.
"I think it might be more," Mathies said. "It's a rivalry game, you have that many people coming out. Louisville has great support, but I saw a lot of blue out there."
The vocal UK fans, along with defensive pressure, might have been the only things keeping the Cats in the game in the second half.
Louisville led by 14 with 15:08 to play in the game, but thanks to Thompson and turnovers - the Cardinals committed 25 in the game - UK was able to claw back. And UK made up the most ground with senior leader Mathies on the bench.
With 8:38 to play, Mathies went down with leg cramps.
In the six minutes Mathies sat out, UK used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to five. But unlike so many close games the past three years, Mathies stepped aside and let Thompson win the game.
"We needed somebody to come in and assert themselves offensively and (Thompson) certainly did that," UK coach Matthew Mitchell said.
With 59 seconds to play and the Cats trailing by four Thompson attempted a three. Unlike her game-winner, this one wasn't close. But a foul sent her to the line.
Some freshman would crack under pressure with so much on the line. Thompson did the opposite. Her three made free throws never touched rim and cut the Cards lead to one.
"Free throws are free throws," Thompson said. "We practice them everyday in practice and we practice them under pressure situations where we have to run if we miss."
Thompson and the team will avoid running in the next practice. But Mitchell wasn't all pleased with the Cats' come-from-behind victory.
UK shot just 32.7 percent on the game and turned the ball over 23 times.
Mitchell and UK will address the ugliness that plagued both teams in Sunday's game, but that doesn't mean the Cats won't enjoy the win.
"I'm real proud of our players for how hard they fought to win this game ," Mitchell said. "We're real happy we won today. It's a very important win for us, and it will be good for us down the road, but we clearly have some things we need to get better doing."
Those things might include late-game execution, despite the end result of Thompson's frenetic finish.
"As a point guard, I probably could have got us in something," Thompson said. "There was enough time for us to run a set play, and I didn't do that. So I was really happy that I made the shot."