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Mathies looking to leave final stamp on UK program in senior season

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A'dia Mathies speaks to reporters at UK women's basketball media day on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies speaks to reporters at UK women's basketball media day on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell talks often about the way the Kentucky women's basketball program has "transformed in front of our eyes" during A'dia Mathies' career.

Mathies, a Louisville native, arrived in Lexington and joined a UK team that was coming off a 16-16 season. Immediately forming a potent inside-out duo with forward Victoria Dunlap, Mathies help lead the Wildcats to 28 wins and an Elite Eight berth in 2009-10.

Two more historic years have followed, culminating in the school's first Southeastern Conference championship in three decades in 2011-12. Meanwhile, Mathies has gone from the conference's Freshman of the Year as a rookie to its Player of the Year as a junior.

"My first year here, we had an outstanding year," Mathies said at media day . "Not too many people expected us to have that great of a year. It's a culture now. The first year shocked everybody, but now it's consistent."

Consistent enough that, for the first time ever, Kentucky has been tabbed as preseason SEC champion by the media. The honor serves as proof of the development of the program since Mathies - the preseason choice to repeat as SEC Player of the Year - arrived three years ago.

"Four years ago we were picked 11th so it at least gives you some idea that progress is being made for the program," Mitchell said. "I'm confident that our fans are excited about that and take pride that we are now considered to be a good program."

That's all well and good, but those preseason prognostications mean little to the players and team about which they are made.

"When you turn it to the team, it literally means nothing," Mitchell said.

In fact, being chosen as the league champ before a game has been played means nothing for exactly the same reason why it says so much about the evolution of the program. Thinking back to Mathies' freshman year, UK was chosen to finish second-to-last in the conference. The Cats ended up finishing second.

"When we were picked 11th (out of 12 teams), we didn't pay attention to that at all, and we saw what that team did," Mitchell said. "So if it didn't mean anything to that team it can't start meaning something now."

Mathies is on the same page

"We can't just go by what other people think," Mathies said. "We've got be able to put in the work to fulfill that."

Though Mitchell and Mathies put little stock in projections being made in October, that doesn't mean they don't understand why the experts are so high on UK. The Cats return 79.5 percent of their scoring output from last year and add talented new pieces to the mix.

With the addition of Cal transfer DeNesha Stallworth, freshman point guard Janee Thompson and Jennifer O'Neill - who missed all of last season due to injury - Mitchell now has five McDonald's All-Americans at his disposal. For the sake of comparison, John Calipari's latest team features just three such players.

"We do have a good team - well, let me say this: We do have good players and we have the capability of becoming a good team, but there is nothing automatic about that," Mitchell said.

The distinction is an important one.

No one is hiding from the vast potential that this team possesses. Never before has Mitchell had a roster this deep, this well suited for playing his "40 minutes of dread" defense and making it truly live up to its name. UK has dynamic perimeter scorers in Mathies and Bria Goss, versatile post players in Stallworth and Samarie Walker and do-it-all role players in Kastine Evans and Maegan Conwright. None of them hesitate in acknowledging lofty goals for their team.

"I think we all have gotten a lot better," Walker said. "It's amazing, I've never seen a group of girls work as hard and work hard together. I think we're going to be even better than we were last year."

If that's going to happen, the work must continue. With 28 wins, an SEC title and an Elite Eight appearance, the 2011-12 team did set the bar pretty high after all.

"We're working hard in practice every single day, working on drills, defense and everything imaginable just trying to get prepared and make a final run this year," Mathies said.

Mathies is speaking for herself and fellow senior Brittany Henderson when she talks about making that final run. The accomplishments listed in the paragraphs above only begin describe Mathies' Kentucky career, but there is one notable item missing from her resume: a Final Four berth.

The Final Four will be held this season in New Orleans and Mitchell acknowledges that his team has the talent to make a trip to the Big Easy.

"They're a potential Final Four team, that's easier for us to say than it is to happen," Mitchell said. "But if you look at our roster and if everybody were to come together and play really hard and you get some breaks, I think they are - they have that potential."

It's hard to imagine a more fitting sendoff for the player who has been instrumental in the program's transformation than leading it to college basketball's biggest stage.

"We are definitely thinking about it more this year," Mathies said. "We have been to an Elite Eight since I have been here, so to take that extra step and reach the Final Four would be great for our program."

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Hey don't leave out Bernisha!! She can hustle and shoot with the best of them!! She is not afraid to get tuf!

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Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: Absolutely, she had a very good sophomore season. read more
  • Loney: Hey don't leave out Bernisha!! She can hustle and shoot with the best of them!! She is not afraid to read more