Play for Janee.
Every Kentucky huddle, every Kentucky timeout had a single mantra on Thursday night as the Cats played their first game without junior point guard Janee Thompson.
For new starting point guard Makayla Epps it was about trying to channel her inner Thompson.
For fellow sophomore Linnae Harper, it was about tugging on her shorts — borrowed from the uniform Thompson won't wear the rest of the season after breaking her leg on Sunday — to remember for whom she was playing.
Never miss a local story.
"Smallest person on the team with the biggest heart on the team," Epps said the day before UK's game against Florida.
Thompson's teammates showed they had plenty of heart, too, helping No. 10 Kentucky come from behind early to top the Gators 62-56 on Thursday night.
"It's about playing for her," Harper said. "I think about her all the time. I think about her every day. She's my motivation to work harder in practice, do the little things, get in the gym extra. That's going to be contagious for the rest of the team."
If thoughts of Thompson weren't motivation enough for her teammates, she hobbled into a standing ovation at Memorial Coliseum with head coach Matthew Mitchell before the game started.
The junior guard, who had surgery on Monday, sat at a safe distance from the bench and cheered wildly as the Cats came back from a seven-point deficit early in the first half to grab a 29-28 lead on Harper's steal and layup a few seconds before the half.
Thompson's former high school teammate at Whitney Young had 14 points, nine rebounds and a career-best six steals in the win.
"For us to wrestle the lead from them at halftime, that was a great development because our young posts just didn't come to play tonight," Mitchell said. "Harp's defense really sort of steadied us in the first half."
Kentucky (15-3, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) needed something to steady it early in the game after the team missed 14 of its first 19 shots.
UK fell behind by as many seven points as Florida scored eight straight to go up 22-15 with 7:26 to go in the first half on a drive by Brooke Copeland.
That seemed to get the Cats back on track. They made four straight shots in less than two minutes to pull within a point.
It was a first half that lacked much offensive flow on either side with the Gators (9-9, 1-4) turning the ball over 16 times and the two teams combining for nine offensive fouls (of the 22 called).
After a pep talk at the half from her coach, Epps took over in the second half, scoring 14 of her 20 points after the break to go with her five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
"We wouldn't have won the game without her," Mitchell said of the sophomore from Marion County. "She just needs reps. ... She can be one of the best point guards in this league — I think she can be one of the best point guards in the country — but she needs reps."
For Epps, it was about taking over where Thompson left off before she was wheeled off the floor at South Carolina on a stretcher with a dislocated ankle and broken fibula late in the game.
"I'm trying to follow in the exact footsteps that she left at the South Carolina game," Epps said. "She was playing great. She was playing aggressive, and I just want to be that.
"I'm just trying to play like Janee."
She's not alone.
Players like freshman Jaycee Coe, who had scored three points total in her UK career, scored seven points and grabbed a rebound in the victory.
Players like Bria Goss, back in her first game since breaking her thumb in the middle of December, went 23 minutes and had just two points, but she got a key rebound of a missed free throw in the final seconds to help seal the win.
Players like senior forward Jelleah Sidney, who is just getting her stamina back after sitting out since mid November with knee issues, and her five minutes of energy in a first half that lacked it.
In a game that saw 17 lead changes and nine ties, Kentucky found a way to win. Without Thompson on the floor, it's going to be a difficult season. They all know it, but they have her to play for, too.
"We just have to hang in there right now," Mitchell said. "Everybody's important. Everybody has something to contribute. We just need to keep battling and it's just another part of this team's journey."