UK Women's Basketball

Janee Thompson becoming Kentucky basketball’s big shot

Kentucky guard Janee Thompson (3) shoots and is fouled by Colorado guard Kennedy Leonard (14) during the second half at Memorial Coliseum Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015 in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky guard Janee Thompson (3) shoots and is fouled by Colorado guard Kennedy Leonard (14) during the second half at Memorial Coliseum Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Herald-Leader

The familiar bellow of “BOARDS!” comes from the Kentucky bench.

But Makayla Epps doesn’t listen.

She knows who took the shot.

“I’m like: ‘There ain’t no rebound, Coach,’” the junior said with a smile. “And I take off running the other way.”

That’s how confident Epps is in the stroke of fellow guard Janee Thompson these days.

“She’s a great shooter,” Epps said of Thompson. “Has tremendous stroke, and she’s the type of person that once she gets going it’s hard to cool her down.”

That’s certainly been the case, lately. And No. 8 Kentucky hopes it continues to be the case Thursday against Louisville in Rupp Arena.

In her last five games, the senior from Chicago has made 20 of her 25 attempts from long range.

The career 27.9 percent three-point shooter is making 51.6 percent this season, tops in the Southeastern Conference and 13th in the nation.

And it’s not just long-range bombs, Thompson has improved her career shooting percentage by nearly 10 points, going from 37.8 percent to 46.8 percent this season.

She is really technically awesome right now. Her elbow’s under the ball. When the ball releases it is just perfect rotation. It is perfect trajectory.

UK Coach Matthew Mitchell, on Janee Thompson’s shooting

That new shooting stroke might turn out to be the most positive thing that came from a horrific leg injury that cut her junior season short.

“That’s all I could do,” Thompson said of shooting after the broken leg in January at South Carolina.

“It was my only way to stay connected with basketball besides watching my teammates. So, I was in the gym pretty much every day doing everything that I could.”

She focused solely on her shot for months while she was limited in her footwork and agility drills. When Coach Matthew Mitchell demanded players make 1,500 shots a week during the summer, Thompson would do even more.

“I just continued to work on it,” said Thompson, who is the unbeaten Cats’ second-leading scorer at 15 points a game to go with her 7.1 assists. “That whole summer, I just worked on my shot and my ball handling.”

Some key Thompson threes opened the game up in the second half at Northern Kentucky last week.

Maybe the jump in percentages and number of made three-pointers seems impressive to an outsider, but Mitchell said all one has to do to understand why she’s making so many is to stand in front of her during shooting drills.

“She is really technically awesome right now,” he said of Thompson, who has 16 three-pointers in the Cats’ first seven games this season, already more than she’s made in any season prior. “Her elbow’s under the ball. When the ball releases it is just perfect rotation. It is perfect trajectory.”

Thompson is winning shooting drills in practice. And she’s taking good shots in games.

“She hits big shots,” Epps said after the win at NKU, where Thompson made three of the four three-pointers she attempted despite battling a stomach virus. “She’s a big shot. We call her Steph Curry.”

Thompson has been a big shot against Louisville in past seasons.

As a true freshman, she came off the bench and hit the game winner over the Cardinals, a step-back three-pointer with less than 10 seconds to play.

Last season at Louisville, Thompson scored 16 of her 19 points after the break to help UK erase a 16-point deficit. The guard drained a three-pointer from the right side with three minutes to go that tied the game.

“It wasn’t on purpose,” Thompson said of her past performances against the in-state rival. “I just go out there and try to play hard.”

In her last five games, the senior from Chicago has made 20 of her 25 attempts from long range.

Now, the Cardinals (3-4) come to Rupp Arena with something to prove. They started the season as a top-10 team then lost four of their first five games. But they seem to have found their groove, first with a big win at No. 19 Michigan State, then a drubbing of Ball State.

Louisville, which has lost four in a row to Kentucky (7-0), will try to get a signature win in Lexington, a place it hasn’t won since 2007.

Mitchell isn’t expecting his senior star to single-handedly kill the Cardinals, though.

“What I’m expecting from her is continued good play,” he said of Thompson. “She’s played great this season. I wish that history meant something in the game this year. It’s two totally different teams, and she has played really well this season and as of late.”

Then he added with a smile: “But if she would like to have a big game tomorrow night and do well and help us win, I won’t be upset with her.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

LOUISVILLE AT KENTUCKY

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Rupp Arena

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Records: Kentucky 7-0, Louisville 3-4

Series: Kentucky leads 33-18

Last meeting: Kentucky won 77-68 on Dec. 7, 2014, in Louisville

KENTUCKY

Probable starters

No.

Player

Pos.

Ht.

Yr.

Ppg.

3

Janee Thompson

PG

5-7

Sr.

15.0

4

Maci Morris

G

6-0

Fr.

10.3

13

Evelyn Akhator

F

6-3

Jr.

12.6

25

Makayla Epps

G

5-10

Jr.

16.2

35

Alexis Jennings

F/C

6-2

So.

11.4

Reserves: 1-Batouly Camara, F, 6-2, Fr.; 2-Ivana Jakubcova, C, 6-6, Sr.; 24-Taylor Murray, G, 5-6, Fr.; 45-Alyssa Rice, C, 6-3, So.

LOUISVILLE

Probable starters

No.

Player

Pos.

Ht.

Yr.

Ppg.

2

Myisha Hines-Allen

F

6-2

So.

13.1

4

Mariya Moore

F

6-0

So.

15.4

5

Taja Cole

G

5-7

Fr.

4.4

13

Cortnee Walton

F

6-3

Jr.

6.1

23

Briahanna Jackson

G

5-6

Jr.

13.4

Reserves: 1-Erin DeGrate, C, 6-4, Fr.; 3-Sam Fuehring, F, 6-3, Fr.; 11-Arica Carter, G, 5-8, So.; 15-Dakota Weatherford, G, 5-5, Jr.; 22-Brianna Jones, G, 5-9, Fr.; 25-Asia Durr, G, 5-10, Fr.; 31-Sydney Brackemyre, F, 6-1, Fr.

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