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Thompson sparks UK Hoops to comeback victory at Louisville

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Janee Thompson's 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left lifted UK to a 48-47 road victory over No. 7 Louisville on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Janee Thompson's 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left lifted UK to a 48-47 road victory over No. 7 Louisville on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For a little less than 30 minutes, Kentucky's annual rivalry matchup with Louisville was going according to the script it has followed in recent seasons.

The home-standing team - in this case, the Cardinals - had a comfortable lead. Leading 41-30 with just 10:07 to play, U of L seemed well on the way to what would be the fifth double-digit victory for the hosts in as many years.

The Wildcats, however, had other ideas.

"I was really pleased that our players, when it was not going well for us, that they just stayed at it and played a full 40 minutes," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said.

UK closed the game on an 18-6 run to post a 48-47 victory on Sunday in the KFC Yum! Center. The Cats turned a deficit that once reached 14 points into an unlikely road win, the first for UK in Louisville since 1999.

UK's hero on Sunday night was just unlikely as the outcome.

Junior DeNesha Stallworth helped the Cats remain within striking distance even as they struggled with turnovers and rebounding. Stallworth led all scorers with 14 points in her first UK-U of L game after transferring from California, but it was a true freshman who didn't play a second in the first half who became the story.

Janee Thompson scored 10 points of her 13 points during that aforementioned 18-6 run, providing shot-making and steady point-guard play in a game that featured 48 total turnovers.

She also saved her best for last. With her team trailing by four, she extended a UK possession with an offensive rebound before drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt. She stepped to the free throw and calmly sank three free throws to make it a one-point game with 50 seconds left.

Louisville's Bria Smith would hit one-of-two free throws on the ensuing possession, giving UK the ball with 38 seconds left trailing by two. As the shot clock ticked down, the ball found its way into Thompson's hands at the top of the key. With little going on offense, Thompson created space with the dribble, stepped back and shot from just outside the 3-point arc.

"I looked at the clock and there wasn't a lot of time left and I couldn't think of a play to run so I was pretty much trying to create my own shot," Thompson said.

The shot was perfect, giving UK a 48-47 lead with eight seconds left.

Needing just two points to send the Cats to a crushing defeat, Smith drove for U of L. Seeming to have a clean look close to the basket, she shot. Sophomore Azia Bishop blocked the shot, the clock expired and UK celebrated on its archrival's home floor.

"That was as big as the 3," Mitchell said of Bishop's block. "Obviously the 3 gave us the lead, but Smith had gotten to the bucket a couple times there at the end and we hadn't done a very good job."

As big as the top-10 road win was for the Cats, the significance of Thompson's emergence could loom even larger. She arrived at UK as one of the nation's most highly touted point guards, but spent most of the first five games of her college career playing off the ball.

She scored in double digits in each of last two games, which Mitchell said helped build up her confidence. Armed with that confidence, Thompson played point guard in UK's most pressure-packed game of the season, stabilizing a position that has been in a state of flux much of the year. If she can maintain that level of play, the Cats' prospects appear much brighter.

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