A’dia Mathies, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, led UK Hoops to a 78-65 victory over conference champions Tennessee in her final game at Memorial Coliseum. She had 16 points (matched by teammate Jennifer O’Neill) as well as four rebounds and four assists in her Senior Day performance.
The victory allowed the Cats to clinch the number-two seed in the SEC tournament this week and was also the win coach Matthew Mitchell needed to become the all-time winningest coach in the history of UK Hoops.
It was a game that wouldn’t have a lot of suspense, as the Cats came out firing on all cylinders immediately. A season-high attendance of 7,965 (the sixth highest total in the Coliseum’s history) amped up from previous Senior Day ceremonies helped Kentucky jump out to its quick lead.
A three-pointer from O’Neill gave the Cats their first double-digit lead of the game, a lead that wouldn’t be relinquished for the rest of the game.
Tennessee crawled back to within a basket after a Tennessee putback. An Azia Bishop score right as the buzzer went off at the end of the half allowed the Cats to go to the locker room with a four-point lead.
“I thought really we were dominating the game the first half,” Mitchell said. “I thought Tennessee was very, very fortunate for the margin to be four at halftime. But in a way, we were fortunate because it looked like we were going to give it away… I just thought we had sort of stubbed our toe a few times on some plays that if we could have made, we could have really stretched the lead out.”
That lead was indeed stretched out after the break. Kentucky continued its signature pressure defense, which had forced 19 Tennessee turnovers in the first half. The Volunteers finished with 31 turnovers, which led to 33 Kentucky points.
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick also attributed the troubles her guards had to Kentucky’s defense, saying they were forced to play “too fast.”
A 16-6 run by the Cats helped them jump back out to a double-digit lead in the second half. Mathies’ three-pointer – she finished 3-6 from behind the arc – gave Kentucky the 52-38 lead. The margin would stay in that range for the rest of the game.
After the 78-65 victory, the team and coaches all joined at half court for Mitchell and Mathies to address the crowd, where Mitchell was honored for becoming the all-time winningest UK women’s basketball coach.
“It’s Senior Day,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be about me.”
Mathies, who is known for her cool and collected demeanor, was nostalgic but not visibly emotional after the game.
“I’m just glad we could walk out of Memorial Coliseum with a win,” she said. “Just coming out there and just hearing all those fans yell your name and just going out there and being able to play for a team who cares about you… It’s going to be missed. I’m not going to dwell on it. I’ve spent four years just like everyone spends four years. My time is up.”
How long Mathies’ and the rest of the UK Hoops season will last will start to be determined this week, when the Cats will travel to Duluth, Ga., for the SEC tournament. Kentucky, as the number-two seed and recipient of a double-bye, will play Friday at 6 p.m. against the winner of Missouri-Vanderbilt.