LOUISVILLE — A series that had become rather ho-hum ended with heaps of hum on Sunday night as No. 9 Kentucky clawed back from 14 points down in the second half to topple No. 7 Louisville 48-47.
In the previous five games between these two teams, the average winning margin was 22.2 points. The home team had predictably won each of the past four.
But apparently, all those games were missing was Janee Thompson. The Kentucky freshman came off the bench and nailed the go-ahead three-pointer with 8.5 seconds to play to send UK home from Louisville a winner for the first time since 1999.
"It was an incredible shot," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "As you can see, she can really elevate on her jump shot. She just raised up and made a great individual play."
Thompson had another great play just 50 seconds before that with the Cats trailing by four points. The Chicago native was fouled while shooting another three-pointer and calmly walked to the line and sank all three free throws.
"She's a great, great player," Kentucky senior A'dia Mathies said of Thompson, who didn't play a second in the first half and then scored 13 points in the second, including her six in the final minute. "You've seen that today. She stepped up and made big key free throws and jump shots and she had tenacity."
Thompson's shots were big, but a block at the other end was huge, too. Bria Smith's attempt to drive it in and have her own game winner was blocked under the basket by UK sophomore Azia Bishop.
"That was as big as the three," Mitchell said of the swat. "That was a spectacular play."
It was the sort spectacular play that UK seemed to be lacking most of the game. The Cats (6-1) found themselves in a 14-point hole five minutes into the second half after the Cardinals ticked off 11 straight points.
It looked like the Cats were going to stick to script and lose for a seventh straight time in Louisville.
"When we went down 14, they were just outhustling us," Mitchell said. "It looked like they wanted it worse than we did and that was the part that was so disappointing for me."
Things looked more bleak when UK's leading scorer, Mathies, went down with a severe leg cramp, but the Cats started to creep back in.
First they had a 9-2 run (which included another Thompson three-pointer) and then another 10-3 rally to get back in it.
As the game started to tighten, so did the Louisville players, who were handed their first loss of the season in front of the crowd of 15,453.
Coach Jeff Walz noted that his team missed half of its six free throw attempts in the final 2:30.
"We gave them the ball game," Walz said. "If we make free throws, there really is no (Kentucky) run."
Louisville star guard Shoni Schimmel, who put on a shooting clinic in the first half with 13 points, was held scoreless in the second half, mostly by UK's Bria Goss. The junior turned the ball over 11 times in the loss.
Schimmel said UK's pressure in the final minutes was intense. "We knew it was coming, but it just hit us in the face."
When asked how his team would bounce back from its first loss of the season, Walz reminded that the sky isn't falling.
While it's a rivalry game, it's still just one regular-season game.
"Come March, nobody cares about this ball game," he said. "If we do our job and continue to improve and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, it doesn't matter."
But it doesn't mean Louisville (8-1) won't be smarting from the loss.
"My kids are hurting and they should be," he said. "They played their rear ends off."
But a quick 11-2 run helped the Cardinals turn an early 8-2 deficit into a lead they wouldn't give up until the waning seconds of the second half. During that spree, Louisville held UK without a point for more than four minutes.
"They really outplayed us for a majority of the game and made it very difficult on us to score," Mitchell said of the Cardinals, who got 12 points and five rebounds from sophomore forward Sara Hammond.
The only UK player who wasn't struggling in the first half was forward DeNesha Stallworth, who scored eight of UK's 18 points before the break and finished with a game-high 14 points and five boards.
Louisville scored the final five points of the half and took a 23-18 lead into the locker room. Both teams shot less than 32 percent in the first half and turned the ball over a combined 29 times. By the end, Louisville and Kentucky combined for 48 miscues.
Mitchell felt relieved to walk away from a bad performance with a big victory.
"We were fortunate to win," Mitchell said. "They played a full 40 minutes and it took every bit of it."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com