Thompson Gets Her 'Storybook' Senior Night

An ankle injury didn’t stop Janee Thompson from playing on Senior Night.

She wasn’t about to let Kentucky lose the game either.

“That’s the veteran in her,” Makayla Epps said. “Small, carrying a big load on her back.”

Thompson, just as she has all season, steadied the ship when adversity hit, leading the No. 15/14 Wildcats (20-6, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) to a 69-59 victory over No. 24 Missouri (21-7, 8-7 SEC).

“To have someone perform like that on Senior Night, that’s storybook-type stuff,” Matthew Mitchell said. “And we needed every ounce of her energy and her leadership.”

After Thompson's 10-point first half guided UK to a seemingly comfortable double-digit lead and alleviated concerns about her health, the Tigers went on a third-quarter flurry. The lead evaporated. And when Missouri hit a layup as time expired in the third quarter, UK found itself down 51-50.

“Coach Mitchell told us to stop—pretty much to stop being scared,” Thompson said. “Mizzou was playing a funky defense where they were kind of sagging and we were letting that just take us out of what we were trying to do. We were dribbling a lot and we pretty much just tried to start taking it to them.”

That’s where Thompson came in.

With the visiting Tigers packing the lane, Thompson found a crease. Using the sliver of space, she drove to the rim, drew a foul and finished.

“After a third quarter like we had – very deflating, we weren’t very tough – she opened the fourth quarter with a very tough play,” Mitchell said. “Really, really put us on her back in the fourth quarter and earned a great victory on Senior Night.”

Counting her and-one and a later assist, Thompson accounted for UK’s first 14 points of the fourth quarter. She scored 12 of her career-high 24 points in the outburst and the Cats rode it to a nine-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“Like I told her one time, she was heating up,” Epps said. “And was like, ‘Heat up. It’s your day.’ And I’m glad to see her have a 24-point game in a big game like that.”

Epps was encouraging Thompson all along, saying she would have had the senior take 30 shots if she had her way.

“I’ve just got a lot of confidence in my senior,” Epps said. “I got a lot of respect for her game. I love being on the court with her. She’s been here ever since I got here day one. So she’s real close to my heart and I got a lot of love for her.”

It’s a team-wide feeling, and that’s especially true of her coach. Thompson and Mitchell share a tight bond, one made tighter by the tough times they faced together early in her career.

That bond was on display as Thompson took the microphone postgame and told the Memorial Coliseum crowd how significant a role Mitchell has played in her growth as a person.

“You just have no idea how meaningful that is to me because that’s what I’ve wanted to be and it was not always sunshine and rainbows with us,” Mitchell said. “There were some tough days, but this season she’s really come into her own.”

And in spite of the fact that she’s played her last regular-season home game, the journey isn’t over.

Far from it.

“I think we’re starting to figure it out and I definitely think our younger players and our newcomers are starting to figure it out,” Thompson said.