Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Tennessee another (slightly bigger) step towards UK Hoops' goals

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
A'dia Mathies is averaging 20.5 points over her last two games entering Thursday matchup with No. 6/7 Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies is averaging 20.5 points over her last two games entering Thursday matchup with No. 6/7 Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
A'dia Mathies is already one of the most accomplished players in Kentucky women's basketball history.

The junior guard needed just 74 games to reach 1,000 points and she, along with Brittany Henderson, is the only UK player to reach the NCAA Tournaments in both freshman and sophomore season. She has advanced to a pair of Southeastern Conference Tournament finals and even an Elite Eight. Her list of career achievements goes on and on, but she doesn't know what it's like to beat Tennessee.

Mathies has helped build Kentucky into a bona fide threat in the SEC, but the conference's foremost power has handed her Wildcats four losses in as many tries. As she looks for the elusive win over Pat Summitt's team, things feel different to Mathies in her third college season.

"We've always had great teams," Mathies said. "But I think this team has more depth and we're playing better together so I think we have the potential to come out with the win this year."

Mathies and the Cats will have their first of two regular season shots at doing just that this week. No. 9/8 Kentucky (14-2, 3-0 SEC) plays host to the No. 6/7 Lady Volunteers at 7 p.m. on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum, where the Wildcats last beat Tennessee three years ago.

Senior guard Keyla Snowden was sitting on the bench as a redshirt following her transfer from Akron for that win on Feb. 9, 2009, so she's just as eager as Mathies to earn a victory.

"It's going to be a huge game," Snowden said. "It's definitely a game that we've circled on our schedule. For us beating Tennessee is going to take us a step forward. I know since I've played here, I've never beaten Tennessee so I'm really looking forward to (Thursday's) game."

The Wildcats set out an ambitious set of goals entering the season, among which are a trip to the Final Four and an SEC regular season championship. The Final Four is down the road, but the game against Tennessee has clear and immediate implications in UK's quest for a conference title.

Kentucky is off to a perfect 3-0 record in conference, the first such start since 1992-93. A three-game winning streak in a league as historically difficult as the SEC is impressive, but the Lady Volunteers have it a factor of 12. Tennessee has won an astounding 36 consecutive games in conference play dating back to January 2010. Ending that streak and continuing their own would give the Wildcats an early boost in the conference race.  

"Every win is precious in the SEC and Tennessee's obviously a top team," Mathies said. "A win against them would definitely be beneficial to what we're trying to accomplish."

Mathies' tune is tempered by an awareness that, win or lose on Thursday, it's still just the fourth game of 16 to be played in conference. That's the message that head coach Matthew Mitchell has been hammering home with his team all week.

"It's a huge game, but it counts no more than Sunday's game with South Carolina," Mitchell said. "I'm just telling you, it is a huge game and it is an unbelievably talented Tennessee team coming in that's extremely well coached - so it's a big game."

Accordingly, Mitchell is treating the Tennessee game just like he does any other, even though the crowd in Memorial will surely bring a different level on intensity. What that means, first and foremost, is that Mitchell is directing the Wildcats' focus inward. Rather than concerning themselves too much with the Lady Vols' +22.0 rebounding margin over the last five games or the play of 6-foot-3 forward Glory Johnson (14.3 points, 9.8 rebounds) and 6-foot-2 guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen (15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds), the Cats are thinking about the Cats.

In defeating then-No. 6/5 Duke, Kentucky established that it had both the talent and the style of play to beat the nation's elite, provided the players played with the necessary energy. However, the Wildcats also showed how bad they can look without that kind of effort in a loss to Middle Tennessee State.  

"I think the lesson there is it's really about what we can do, what kind of energy we can bring to the floor every night and it takes tremendous energy to play the way we try to play," Mitchell said. "I think our focus, whether it's tomorrow night against Tennessee or whether it's the next Thursday night, we really have to be so focused on what we do and how we can execute that."

As much as Mitchell is thinking about his own team entering the top-10 showdown, it's impossible for him to keep his thoughts from periodically drifting to the legend who will be pacing the Tennessee sideline. Summitt, the all-time NCAA record holder with 1,083 wins, was diagnosed this offseason with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type but is persevering and continuing her storied career.

"I've been so impressed - but not surprised - that she's wanted to keep the focus on the players," Mitchell said.

Mitchell's players are just as impressed by Summitt's courage in continuing her career while also raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease through her foundation. UK will support Summitt next week as a part of "We Back Pat", an initiative started by the SEC, but the Wildcats understand the Lady Vol coach is still a ferocious competitor.

"She's very strong-willed," Mathies said. "I'm very sensitive to her medical condition, but I know she's still competitive and is going to have Tennessee ready. Our focus is coming out and being ready too and trying to get the win."

Assuredly, Summitt wouldn't have it any other way.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment

Recent Comments