The last time fans saw Janee Thompson on the floor, she was being carted off crying with a broken leg after a gruesome injury at South Carolina.
So when the senior guard sprinted onto the Memorial Coliseum floor for No. 17 Kentucky's exhibition on Sunday night, she got an extra long, extra loud round of applause.
Then Thompson really gave UK fans something to cheer about, scoring eight straight as part of an early 13-0 run that put the Cats up for good in a 95-63 exhibition win over Union University.
"It felt great, felt good to hear the crowd in Memorial Coliseum again," said Thompson, who finished with 17 points, seven assists and two steals in 25 minutes. "Just felt good to be back on the floor with my teammates."
Never miss a local story.
Her teammates also gave the crowd plenty to cheer about with six different players scoring in double figures, including a double-double for sophomore Alexis Jennings, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Junior College Player of the Year Evelyn Akhator added more oomph to the backcourt with 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals while nursing a strained hand. True freshman forward Batouly Camara added 15 points and three blocks in 20 minutes off the bench.
Matthew Mitchell called his Kentucky team — which has had a turbulent offseason that included losing three players in the course of three weeks, including star guard Linnae Harper, who asked for, and was granted, a transfer — resilient and strong.
On Sunday, the Cats had just eight available players, including five who had never played in a game for UK, to go with Jennings, Thompson and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, the latter two still coming back from injuries.
UK also was without First Team All-Southeastern Conference guard Makayla Epps, who is finishing out the terms of her suspension after an alcohol-related charge this spring. It also didn't have sophomore Alyssa Rice, who will miss a month with a stress reaction in her foot.
"We have a long way to go as a team, but I feel really good about their effort and their attitude and their energy," Mitchell said of this new collection of Cats, who were able to string together some big runs and make 62.5 percent of their shots in the second half and 57.1 percent for the game.
Kentucky outscored the much smaller Bulldogs 50-6 in the paint, leading Coach Mark Campbell to joke that "it's obvious God makes people a little more athletic than others."
What Union (Tenn.) lacked in size it more than made up for in shooting, hitting 17 from long range on Sunday, paced by five three-pointers each from Kelsey Risner and Tiffany Rechis, who finished with 15 points apiece.
All but four of the Bulldogs' made field goals were from outside the arc. Union's 17 made threes were four more than any UK opponent had last season.
UK hadn't practiced much against flair screens this preseason, and it showed against the top three-point shooting team in Division II last season.
"We didn't guard the three-point line well, but I think those are things we can correct," Mitchell said.
More than anything, he was happy to see a smiling Thompson run on the floor and play well for the first time since that horrific injury in Columbia, S.C.
"My mind's been on her so much since last Jan. 11," Mitchell said of his senior leader. "She's had so many hurdles to clear from that tough injury. Today was a mental hurdle. ...
"I was so excited to see her run out there and so excited to see her perform well. She'll do nothing but get better."
So will UK, which had big play from all of its true freshmen. Kentucky Miss Basketball Maci Morris had 10 points, two rebounds, two steals and two assists in her debut.
Fellow guard Taylor Murray, who said she had to shake off some nerves early, added nine points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds in 21 minutes.
Epps injured in practice
Epps, who already was going to miss the exhibition and season opener while finishing out the terms of her suspension for an off-the-court issue this spring, was not on the Kentucky bench Sunday.
The junior guard and UK's leading scorer last season suffered a concussion on Friday in practice after taking an elbow to the nose. The staff decided to have her rest at home instead of dealing with the lights and sounds of Memorial Coliseum.
"She got her bell rung pretty hard, so she's just trying to rest the past couple of days," Mitchell said of Epps, who is going through the regular concussion protocol. "We feel like she's progressing well and we hope she can get back into practice this week."
The plan is to have her back on the bench on Friday night for the season opener against Rice at Memorial Coliseum.