LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky players knew it was just a matter of time before Janee Thompson showed her versatility.
And after Sunday's all-around performance that helped beat Central Michigan, the Wildcats guard will be expected to keep it up.
Thompson recorded career highs of 17 points and six steals while tying a best with four rebounds to complement DeNesha Stallworth's 21 points as No. 7 Kentucky pulled away for a 96-74 victory on Sunday.
After averaging four points per game last season, the 5-foot-7 Thompson opened the season with 13 at Marist before tailing off the past two contests against Wagner and Georgia Southern. The starting point guard went all out against CMU, scoring 11 points while trying to get everybody involved.
Asked what has helped this season, Thompson said, "just knowing what to expect now. At times I didn't understand how hard I would have to work and how hard it would be in general. ... Just having the year of experience has helped me."
Thompson's contributions were certainly needed as the Wildcats had to work harder and longer to keep the stubborn Chippewas at bay.
Thompson and Stallworth each scored 11 in the second half, but the guard made her biggest contribution during Kentucky's 19-10 scoring spurt after leading just 46-37 at the break. She scored seven points during the run that ultimately provided a cushion as the Chippewas fought back to make it interesting, getting within 80-68 on Jewel Cotton's third straight basket with 5:53 remaining.
Stallworth added six points down the stretch to create some distance from CMU. Kastine Evans added 13 points, Jennifer O'Neill 11 and Samarie Walker and Azia Bishop 10 each for the Wildcats (4-0). Walker also had 11 rebounds.
Stallworth shot 6 of 8 from the field, made 9 of 10 free throws and grabbed six rebounds as Kentucky outrebounded CMU 30-16 in the period and 55-36 overall.
"I knew what we were going to have to do if we were going to compete with them," Central Michigan head coach Sue Guevara said. "One was to handle the pressure and the other was to not allow so many offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, that did not happen."
Bishop, a reserve forward, had nine rebounds along with five blocks for the Wildcats.
None of that would've been possible without Thompson.
"Is this the Janee Thompson I was looking for? The answer to that is yes," said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, adding that he "butted heads" with Thompson as a freshman. "She's using her gifts at a very high level. I thought her speed and her aggressiveness in the attack on offense today in transition really made a huge difference."
Crystal Bradford scored a game-high 23 points for Central Michigan (1-1) before fouling out with 2:35 left.
The Wildcats forced 28 turnovers but also committed 21.
Niki DiGuilio added 14 points and Cotton 12 for CMU, which shot 27 of 66 (41 percent).
Unlike previous routs of Wagner and Georgia Southern by margins of 39 and 65 points respectively, Kentucky had to work harder against a Central Michigan team coming off a 44-point drubbing of Massachusetts in its opener.
The Chippewas quickly fell behind 12-2 and trailed by as many as 14 at 41-27, but they steadily fought back both times, twice getting within six midway through the first half but and mostly staying within single digits. Their defense forced the Wildcats into some of their uncharacteristic 13 turnovers, and didn't back down from Kentucky's inside duo of Stallworth and Walker.
Diguilio's three shots from the beyond the arc helped, but 33 percent shooting prevented CMU from getting too close. Bishop had something to do with that with 5 blocks that made the Chippewas think twice about penetrating.
Kentucky lost forward Samantha Drake to a left leg injury in the closing seconds of the first half. She spent the rest of the game on the bench with the leg wrapped and will undergo an MRI on Monday.