When two teams are ranked as highly and are as evenly matched as Louisville and Kentucky, any advantage can be a big advantage.
Turned out UK's bench was the Cats' most important in the 69-64 win over the Cardinals on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky's bench outscored its Cards counterpart 28-11, including 22-0 in the second half.
"Anybody on our bench can come in and contribute and I think that's what they were trying to do," guard Janee Thompson said. "It did really help, they gave us a spark and it gave us that extra boost of energy that we needed."
Perhaps the biggest spark came from senior guard Bernisha Pinkett, who hit two three-pointers in less than two minutes, to give the Cats their first lead of the game since they were up 2-0.
The second gave Kentucky its largest lead of the game until the waning seconds.
"This was not my first year being in a big game," said Pinkett, of her only two shots of the game. "I knew when I got in, whatever he needed me to do I had to be ready; whether it was getting a stop on defense, getting a rebound, or making a three."
Pinkett wasn't alone in the big-shot category.
In the first half, it was two consecutive three-pointers from freshman and Kentucky Miss Basketball Makayla Epps that helped UK stay in the game and withstand a huge Cardinals run.
"Makayla's threes really saved us because we had nothing going at the time, and we were not being mentally tough," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "That was a huge boost for the victory."
He was pleased with Epps and his other freshman Linnae Harper, who only played eight minutes, but chipped in two steals and an assist.
It was a team win, he said. "At Kentucky we just try to make sure that we get the win for Kentucky. We don't care exactly how it happens or who gets the credit or who plays the minutes. I'm really proud of our team today for just finding a way to win."
Fun for the fans, but ...
It's the second straight season that both Kentucky and Louisville have been ranked in the top 10 and met up in December.
Does that make this rivalry more fun now, especially playing in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,963 at Memorial Coliseum?
It's not more fun for Mitchell, he said, because Cardinals Coach Jeff Walz is so good at his job.
"It's a miserable proposition for me because you have to be prepared," Mitchell said. "You have to work really, really hard. It's always so early in the season you don't know exactly if you can get it done."
But as for the fan bases and for women's college basketball in general, Mitchell can see where there's some fun to be had.
"It is an electric atmosphere here; it's an electric atmosphere over there," he said. "It is tremendous for women's college basketball that in the Commonwealth of Kentucky two of the best teams in the country are 60 miles apart. ... It's a good time for women's basketball in the Commonwealth of Kentucky."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.