Kentucky Sports

Janee Thompson shows how far she's come in Kentucky's rout of Morehead

Wildcat Janee Thompson put pressure on Almesha Jones of Morehead during the second half of Wednesday morning's game at Memorial Coliseum. Thompson was the team's high scorer with 15.
Wildcat Janee Thompson put pressure on Almesha Jones of Morehead during the second half of Wednesday morning's game at Memorial Coliseum. Thompson was the team's high scorer with 15. Lexington Herald-Leader

Just a couple of years ago, Janee Thompson spent almost as much time getting kicked out of practice as she spent practicing.

As a headstrong freshman, the guard didn't take as kindly to coaching as her coach might have liked, and she struggled.

Now the junior guard is one of the most important leaders on Kentucky's team, which won its third straight game to open the season, 91-62 over Morehead State on Wednesday morning.

"It was just a process getting there, but I'm really proud," Coach Matthew Mitchell said of Thompson, one of four Cats in double figures, with 15 points and three assists.

"I just told the assistants, she's come a million miles from the day she stepped on our campus."

For the 5-foot-7 guard from Chicago, it was about wanting to state her case, wanting to shout down her coach, wanting to be right.

It led to lots of time sitting on the bench.

"I had a rough time my freshman year because Coach Mitchell was pushing me out of my comfort zone," Thompson explained.

There wasn't one light-bulb moment, but a series of flickers that helped her understand what she needed to do to become a true team leader, which her coach says she's become.

"It was just about helping me grow up pretty much and maturing, and just allowing me to eventually step into that leadership role," Thompson said.

Mitchell has seen that leadership in Kentucky's first three games and during grueling preseason training. Thompson has embraced the process and helped carry others through it.

"You get stronger through the struggle; I really believe that," Mitchell said. "She's much better off now because she's made tremendous changes."

Averaging 11.3 points, Thompson has been a big part of UK's fast start to the season and its quick start Wednesday in Memorial Coliseum, where the No. 13 Cats jumped on Morehead State 14-0.

The Eagles missed their first nine shots and turned the ball over four times before getting on the board.

Kentucky (3-0) led by as many as 30 points in the first half after a free throw by Thompson with five minutes to go before the break. The junior guard led the Cats with eight points at the half.

By the end of the game, she was one of five players to score nine points or more. Senior guard Jennifer O'Neill added 14 points and six rebounds.

Two Cats finished with double doubles, with sophomore Linnae Harper adding 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, and senior forward Azia Bishop pitching in 11 points and 11 boards.

Kentucky won the boards battle 55-35, including getting 30 offensive rebounds and outscoring the Eagles 30-5 on second-chance points.

After missing those first nine shots of the game, the Eagles settled in, making 11 of their next 25 before the break, but they were too far behind for it to matter.

Casey Ryans had nine points off the bench for Morehead during the first half and finished with 11.

Morehead State (2-1) had an impressive shooting performance early in the second half, making 12 of its first 15 shots and cutting the Cats' lead to 13 points on a three-pointer by Maiki Viela with 6:37 to go. The Gonzaga transfer had a game-high 19 points and four rebounds.

"We got to hanging our heads and just didn't play — you're up 30 and as much as you try as a coach — we just lost our intensity," Mitchell said. "It's not good, it's not acceptable, and we need to learn from it."

After the Eagles cut into the lead, UK turned up the defensive heat again, forcing three straight turnovers that helped fuel a 20-2 run. The Cats scored 35 points off of 24 Morehead turnovers.

"They sort of wore us down toward the end of the game," first-year Morehead coach Greg Todd said, noting that the Eagles were down a player who was injured the game before.

But even in the loss, the former Lexington Catholic and Transylvania coach saw some positives for his team.

"We are pleased," Todd said. "As a coach, any time you are competing against a (top) team, in our situation we really wanted them to play their top players as long as they did. So we were pleased that they had to keep competing."

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