Kentucky Sports

Kentucky women overcome slow start to win SEC opener at Alabama

Kentucky's Janee Thompson (3) shoots past Alabama's Nikki Hegstetter (13) in an NCAA college basketball game, Jan. 2, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)
Kentucky's Janee Thompson (3) shoots past Alabama's Nikki Hegstetter (13) in an NCAA college basketball game, Jan. 2, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager) AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There could've been a dozen talking points, maybe a few plays diagrammed on the Kentucky dry erase board at halftime.

It remained empty, except for one set of numbers written in bold, blue print: 31-13.

It wasn't the score, but it told the story even more effectively than the Cats' halftime deficit in their Southeastern Conference opener at Alabama on Friday.

It was the rebounding margin, in favor of the Crimson Tide, that had Coach Matthew Mitchell seeing crimson.

"The rebounding kind of showed you everything you needed to know," he said. "I don't know that I've ever seen a poorer effort from our team on the boards. We were very fortunate to only be down eight at halftime."

It was about effort and energy, things he wondered if No. 11 Kentucky had forgotten back in Lexington.

Those things returned just in time for the Cats to come back from 10 points down early in the second half to top Alabama 78-66 with a massive 20-1 run that put the game away midway through the second half.

UK's rebounding edge in the second half wasn't much, just 20-19, "but it's a heck of a lot better than getting crushed by 18," Mitchell said with a smile after his team beat Alabama for the 10th time in the last 12 tries.

It was energy and effort that fueled Kentucky's big run, which included points from four different players, seven from freshman forward Alexis Jennings, who kept UK in the game with 14 points in the first half and a game-high 21 points in all.

That doesn't mean Mitchell was pleased completely with the Alabama native's effort, especially in the first half.

"She had 14 at halftime and I'm glad she did because that was half of our points, but her attention to detail on defense and rebounding effort (were not where they needed to be)," Mitchell said. "But she was not alone."

Janee Thompson, who scored seven straight to give Kentucky a boost once it went down 10 points early in the second half, finished with 12 points and 10 assists.

It was the sophomore guard's first career double-double and UK's first in that form since Carly Ormerod did it in 2007.

"My mindset was just to be aggressive and get into the paint, whether that was to score or create for my teammates, I was just trying to get into the paint and make something happen," said Thompson, who scored all of her points in the second half.

After Thompson's solo run, UK used a 12-2 rally to gain some more steam, including a long three-pointer by Kyvin Goodin-Rogers to give Kentucky its first lead, 49-47, since it was 6-4 early.

During that first spree, Kentucky's defense held Alabama to just one field goal more than seven minutes.

"They made big shots; we missed big shots," Alabama Coach Kristy Curry said. "You've got to make plays. We've got to learn how to make plays for 40 minutes."

Thompson's effort helped will Kentucky (12-2, 1-0 SEC) to a win, the head coach said.

"We dodged a bullet today with the poor first half, but had a tremendous second half," Mitchell said. "I can't say enough about how Janee Thompson played today, had a really, really incredible second half, put us on her shoulders and took us home to victory."

Sophomore guard Makayla Epps added 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Jennifer O'Neill pitched in 12 points and three rebounds.

As they were making their comeback, which came in the form of several big runs in the second half, defense was the primary fuel for the Cats, who forced 27 Alabama turnovers and turned them into 39 points.

"It was a game of mistakes and we made too many today," Curry said of the Tide, who ended up outrebounding Kentucky 50-33.

Alabama (11-5, 0-1) was led by Hannah Cook's 18 points. Ashley Williams added 13 points and seven rebounds.

Because of the holiday break, Kentucky will have a faster turnaround than normal, taking on Mississippi and former UK assistant coach Matt Insell on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum.

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