By Alex Forkner
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Growing up is hard to do, but Janee Thompson made it look easy against the Louisville Cardinals on Sunday night, in front of a KFC Yum! Center home crowd hungry for a win.
The freshman McDonald’s All-American, who had only been averaging five points per game early this season, sank three huge free throws to cut the Louisville lead to one, then buried a step-back game-winning 3-pointer with eight seconds left on the clock. Sophomore forward Azia Bishop sealed the victory with a block in the lane as time ran out.
“We just struggled all day to get into any kind of rhythm. I just let it play out, and it was an incredible shot,” head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “She just raised up and made a great individual play. I saw the ball in the air and I saw it go in the bucket, and I was extremely happy.”
After not seeing a second of playing time in the first half, Thompson logged 16 minutes in the second, scoring 13 points of 4-of-8 shooting, none bigger than the final six points that gave her team the win.
“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 of her game winner. “I was dribbling around and I was running around, and I looked at the shot clock and there were four seconds left, then I saw A’dia (Mathies) and it was too late to pass it to her, so I just stepped back and shot it and it went in.”
If you listen to Thompson, she’ll have you believe her shot was a product of bad point-guard play.
“I was happy because I knew it wasn’t the best play, it wasn’t the prettiest play, because I was just dribbling everywhere,” Thompson said. “As a point guard I probably could have got us into something. There was enough time to run a set play and I didn’t do that, so I was really happy I made the shot.”
Don’t believe that for a second.
When senior guard A’dia Mathies hit the deck with leg cramps and spent a key stretch of the game getting iced on the bench, that’s when Thompson shined.
“I think that’s all they needed to get their pep up to make that run,” Mathies said. “If me going down makes (Thompson) make threes like that and Azia make blocks, then I might go down a little bit more.”
Mathies, a maker of big shots in her own right, believed in her young teammate.
“I had all the confidence in the world she’d make that shot. She’s a great, great player. As you saw today, she steps up and makes key free throws and jump shots and has the tenacity on offense and defense.”
Thompson might just be the point guard Mitchell needs to make this team go. Thompson assisted junior forward DeNesha Stallworth on a couple of key baskets down the stretch. She steadied the offense and limited turnovers, allowing UK to find some sort of flow.
Thompson surely has earned herself an increased role in the Cats’ rotation and has most likely raised the expectations of fans concerning what she can do for this team.
As a freshman it may be unfair to heave those expectations on her, especially with tough non-conference matchups and an entire SEC slate still to come.
But who knows? This may just be the beginning of a special season and career for a young player.
As a freshman, there’s still plenty of room to grow.