A few weeks ago, Matthew Mitchell would have laughed if he were told that late in a close game he'd be playing Janee Thompson and Azia Bishop.
But the two Kentucky reserves made significant contributions, especially late, in the fifth-ranked Cats' 73-60 win over Louisiana State on Sunday.
Thompson and Bishop have struggled to be consistent practice players, and neither had played more than nine minutes in any Southeastern Conference game this season before this one.
But there they were making plays down the stretch.
"She is a playmaker and she made several today," Mitchell said of Thompson, who played just two minutes in the Cats' last game. "So, again, you can see her talent level and we just need her to become dependable."
Thompson, who had eight points and three assists, gave Kentucky another ball-handler against the Tigers' 2-3 zone.
"What we needed desperately in this game was someone that could make some decisions against the zone and someone that had the courage (to create opportunities)," Mitchell said.
Although Thompson hadn't shared much practice time with fellow point guard Jennifer O'Neill up until now, it was a combination Mitchell had been pondering. Both are good ball-handlers and three-point shooters.
He was pleased with how well they played together.
"In this game it was one of our better combinations," Mitchell said. "Both of them can make good decisions and both of them can push the tempo. That ended up, again, being an unexpected combination."
The coach has been less than pleased with Thompson's practices since conference play started. He even benched her at Alabama on Jan. 6.
"She has tried to work her way back," he said. "She has had a really tough few weeks and it's been no picnic for her at all. We have been really tough on her."
O'Neill, who had her own growing pains her first season as a McDonald's All-American, has tried to help Thompson.
"She's a good point guard, but it's hard being a freshman," O'Neill said. "But she's coming along."
'She'll do better next time'
With 53 seconds left in a six-point game, UK forward Samarie Walker found herself surrounded by LSU defenders trying to rip the ball away after she'd secured a rebound.
The result was a technical foul on Walker at a key point in the game. The official told Mitchell that Walker "reacted inappropriately, said some things she shouldn't have said."
While the coach said he was disappointed in her reaction (and maybe would have liked a quicker whistle there), he thought Walker learned a valuable lesson.
"Samarie felt bad about it and I think she'll do better next time keeping her composure," he said. "Thank goodness it didn't hurt us."
Some needed R&R?
Kentucky gets its first SEC bye week on Thursday before a game on Sunday against No. 14 Georgia at Memorial Coliseum.
Mitchell said going seven days between games will sharpen the Cats and help them reset a little, too.
"The players need to take a deep breath here," he said. "They just need to get a little bit of rest mentally and physically and try to come back with a little pep in their step as we get ready for Georgia."