LOUISVILLE — What they ought to do at the KFC Yum Center is let Janee Thompson hire an interior decorator and move in her furniture.
At this point, the home court of the Louisville Cardinals may as well be Janee's house.
For the third straight year, the Louisville women's basketball team built a double-digit lead over archrival Kentucky — and for the third straight season, the Wildcats unleashed a stirring rally to wrest the game away from the Cardinals.
For the second straight time in the Yum Center, it was Thompson, UK's 5-foot-7 junior point guard, who broke U of L hearts.
Two seasons ago, Thompson's step-back three-pointer with nine seconds left provided the winning points in a 48-47 UK victory. In that low-scoring, grind-it-out affair, she scored 13 points in 16 minutes.
On Sunday afternoon, Thompson drained a cold-blooded trey from the right wing with 3:01 left to tie the game at 66. This time, Thompson scored 16 of her 19 points after halftime as No. 13 Kentucky erased a 16-point first-half deficit and beat No. 7 Louisville 77-68.
"Boy, did she have a great second half," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said of Thompson. "That three that tied it (was big) because it looked like the momentum was starting to swing back to Louisville."
It was Kentucky's fourth straight victory over U of L and fifth win in six years.
Two years ago here, the Cats trailed the Cardinals by 14 with 15:08 left in the game. Last year, Kentucky was behind 14 to Louisville in the first half.
On Sunday, UK was down 32-16 with 6:44 left in half one. It was behind 42-29 at halftime. The Cats still trailed by 13, 53-40, with 13:29 left in the game.
Most galling to Mitchell, Kentucky dug its hole by being outworked and outfought. In the first half, the Cats kept getting beaten down the court for transition layups. UK was absolutely pounded on the glass, outrebounded 26-17 and outscored 26-8 in the paint.
"There's no in-between with our team," Mitchell said. "We have to play like our hair is on fire all the time."
Playing four guards for most of the second half, UK got its fuse lit.
Thompson set a different tone for UK right out of the locker room, driving hard for a layup 15 seconds into the second half. Her conventional three-point play at 16:03 let Kentucky pull within 49-40.
At 12:31, the Chicago product made a steal, roared in for a layup and got fouled. When she cashed the foul shot, UK was within 53-45.
Suddenly, the Yum Center was starting to fill with an "Oh no, here we go again" feeling.
"I wouldn't necessarily say anything changed for me (in the second half)," Thompson said. "I think things changed for us as a team. We came out and were a lot more aggressive, played with a lot more energy. And that started on the defensive end."
A pair of Thompson foul shots at 7:56 brought the Cats within 58-54. Four straight points from Bria Goss tied the game at 58. Then, however, Louisville appeared to settle itself and opened a 66-63 advantage on two Bria Smith foul shots with 3:26 left.
That just set the stage for Thompson to hit the pivotal shot of the game — again. This one tied it at 66 and seemed to shift the momentum decisively to the Kentucky column.
Louisville Coach Jeff Walz had seen that film before.
"She played well," Walz said of Thompson. "She made shots. ... She played well here two years ago, so it didn't surprise me."
Thompson's final line was 19 points, five rebounds, four steals — and six turnovers. "I thought we did a nice job forcing her to turn the ball over several times," Walz said. "But she hit some big shots."
On her personal highlight reel, Thompson said the game-winner vs. U of L from two seasons ago will loom larger than Sunday's game-tying three. "It actually won the game," she said.
UK's Mitchell has said several times that Thompson's heroics against Louisville as a freshman may have actually slowed her development as a player by giving her (my words, not his) a bit of the big head and making her less coachable.
"I'm really proud of the person she is two years later," Mitchell said. "She's just really worked hard to become a better leader and a more focused basketball player, a more focused student, just a better person."
One thing hasn't changed over two years for Janee Thompson. Lock, stock and barrel, she still owns the Yum Center.