Kentucky forward DeNesha Stallworth, who had arthroscopic knee surgery less than a month ago, could see limited action as early as Sunday against Florida.
Stallworth, who was averaging 14.2 points and seven rebounds a game before her procedure, was able to "take a big step forward" and jog for the first time on Wednesday night, Coach Matthew Mitchell said after the Cats' 85-63 victory at Alabama on Thursday.
"We're real encouraged and real positive about her return being sooner rather than later," Mitchell said, adding that there was no swelling after Stallworth's jog. "We'll see how she progresses through the weekend."
The coach didn't guarantee minutes versus Florida at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, but said he's optimistic.
"We'll see how it goes," he said. "I'm thinking sometime in the next three games we will see her return. She's done real, real well."
UK's next three games are versus Florida in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, then at No. 13 South Carolina on Thursday and then back home against Missouri on Jan. 12.
The 6-foot-3 senior from California tweeted on Wednesday night that she was "remaining positive through this journey."
That tweet wasn't based on any setbacks, her coach said.
"She is so connected to her teammates and wants to be out there, I just think she wants to make sure she's staying positive and working hard," he said. "I know she's anxious to return."
'Puts a smile on our face'
Azia Bishop had her best game of the season with 16 points, but it wasn't the points in the paint that had her Kentucky teammates roaring with delight on Thursday.
It was the junior's back-to-back makes from the free throw line, where she went 3-for-3. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it has been a long journey to reach perfection for Bishop, who came into the game making just 33.9 percent.
The junior is a career 40.6 percent free throw shooter, but some extra practice with her teammates has paid off.
"We've been working really hard after practice at shooting free throws," Bishop said. "Coach is having us shoot 100 and we have to get over 80 percent. He has me focus on being consistent on my form. The past three, I've been 86, 92 and 91 percent. Finally brought that over to the game."
UK shot a season-high 86.7 percent Thursday, making 13 of 15 attempts. It was Bishop's makes that made all the extra practice worth it, senior Kastine Evans said.
"It just puts a smile on our face when she comes in the game, is mentally focused and goes 100 percent from the free throw line," Evans said.
After the loss to Kentucky, new Alabama coach Kristy Curry couldn't help but talk about the need to win big in recruiting if the Tide wants to catch up to teams like Kentucky and Tennessee.
"It showed today physically we've got to improve our recruiting," she said after the loss.
Curry's voice even cracked a little as she discussed UK's leading scorer, junior guard Jennifer O'Neill, coming off the bench with 17 points. She noted that the Cats bring three McDonald's All-Americans off the bench.
"When you can bring (Linnae) Harper, and you bring O'Neill and you bring (Makayla) Epps off the bench, those are three that could probably start for anyone in our league," Curry said. "Again, it comes down to depth and the wear and tear."
Kentucky's bench outscored Alabama's 34-12 in the victory and is more than doubling opponents' output 39.4 to 15.1 on average this season.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.