Samarie Walker hasn't played in a game for almost a year, and knowing that there's a big one looming, Matthew Mitchell admitted he wasn't sure what to expect from her.
The coach said he didn't know how the Connecticut transfer would perform in practices this week for No. 8 Kentucky, leading up to its big matchup at No. 3 Notre Dame.
"I thought maybe she might be hyped up in a negative way and tight," Mitchell said on Friday.
But the 6-foot-1 forward, who was rated the eighth-best player in the nation out of high school, has impressed with her steadiness.
Never miss a local story.
"She's just been excellent this week," Mitchell said. "She's performed great. She's had some of the best practices of the week."
The former McDonald's All-American might struggle a bit early on the defensive side of the ball, Mitchell said, but he doesn't expect those struggles to last long.
She will have an immediate impact on the other side of the ball, he said.
"She makes so many plays offensively for us," he said. "She's going to be a big addition."
Walker is the only player on UK's team who actually has played at Notre Dame's Joyce Center. In what was one of her final games with the Huskies last year, she had two points, three rebounds and a steal in 19 minutes off the UConn bench.
This week, Walker said she is ecstatic to be playing again and that it was even better to be returning in time for a matchup of top-10 teams.
"It's exciting for me, getting to come back for such a great game," she said. "I've been dreaming about this ever since I got here."
Walker said she doesn't have any expectations about a starting spot. Mitchell's made it clear that his first five in the rotation is never set in stone.
"He just always tells us whoever works the hardest and hustles the most will get the most playing time, and we all hustle and work hard," she said. "It's definitely a fight to get playing time."
A rivalry revisited
When asked last week whether she had any friends or former teammates on Notre Dame's team, Indianapolis native Bria Goss shrugged.
"Not friends," she said.
No, not friends. But there is one Notre Dame player with which Goss has a ton of history: Skylar Diggins.
Goss and the Irish point guard were a part of arguably the most famous girls' basketball game in Indiana history.
Both players were on undefeated teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation when they met in the state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Goss, who was a sophomore at Ben Davis High School at the time, hit an off-balance jumper with 1.5 seconds to go to knock off Diggins' Washington team 71-69.
"I didn't even see it go in," Goss told the Indianapolis Star afterward. "They were all yelling and screaming, so I guess I made it."
With the win, Goss became state tournament Most Valuable Player, and Ben Davis was the first girls' basketball team in state history to go unbeaten.
Both went on to be named Indiana Miss Basketball in their respective seasons and McDonald's All-Americans. They have had some contact a few times since the game, but they're not friends, per se.
"We're not going to go out there and hurt each other, but we're both competitive and want to win," said Goss, who added that she would have plenty of fans in the stands for the game Sunday.
"I'm going to have a lot of friends and family there because they know (about the Diggins rivalry)," she said.
Goss has been UK's main on-ball defender this season, and Diggins is the Notre Dame point guard and leading scorer.
Goss did admit that she had some interest in playing for Notre Dame early in her high school career, but the Irish didn't recruit her.
Friend or foe?
When Kentucky beat Notre Dame last season in Lexington, it was a big day for Lexington Catholic.
Former Knights teammates Keyla Snowden (a UK guard) and Natalie Novosel (an Irish guard) both had games to remember.
Novosel sparked Notre Dame early and finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
Snowden had 17 points, including hitting four of her five three-pointers in the second half.
"They were huge shots," Irish Coach Muffet McGraw said of Snowden's threes. "I really thought, if we could have guarded her, we could have won the game.
"I thought the threes that she hit were unforgivable defensively for us."
Novosel and Snowden said they haven't communicated this week. The Irish senior admitted that she was happy her former teammate had such a big game last year.
"If anybody was going to beat me, I'd want it to be Keyla," she said.