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Mathies proud of UK Hoops' progress as Senior Day approaches

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UK will honor A'dia Mathies - the school's all-time leading scorer - and Brittany Henderson as part of Senior Day on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK will honor A'dia Mathies - the school's all-time leading scorer - and Brittany Henderson as part of Senior Day on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
A'dia Mathies has staged an all-out assault on the Kentucky women's basketball record book during her senior season.

With one regular-season game and the postseason still ahead, Mathies is the second-leading scorer in school history with 1,883 points. She is third on UK Hoops' all-time steals list and is the only Wildcat ever with more than 1,800 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 250 steals.

When the Louisville, Ky., native set foot on campus in the summer of 2009, those statistical milestones were the last things on her mind.

"I wasn't shooting for anything when I came here," Mathies said. "I just wanted to go out there and play. The more I played, the more accolades came to me."

By simply playing, Mathies has cemented herself as one of the best players in school history due in part to the fact that she ranks in the top 10 of a remarkable 13 career lists at UK.

"She has proven it in the record books, she has proven it in the win column, she's proven it with championship performance," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She is the best player that's played here in a generation or two. You have to go back to Valerie Still to find a player that had that kind of impact."

That's where the one record Mathies really cares about comes in. As UK prepares to honor her and Brittany Henderson on Senior Day vs. Tennessee on Sunday about 20 minutes prior to a 3:30 p.m. ET tip-off, Mathies' class is the most successful in the history of UK Hoops. Mathies and Henderson have been a part of four teams that have won a total of 105 games, reached three NCAA Tournaments, two Elite Eights and established Kentucky among the nation's best.

"I think it is very humbling to be a part of something like that," Mathies said. "Just to come back and realize that it was us that was a part of that, I think it's going to mean a lot. Probably more so when we are weak, old and ran down and thinking about what we used to do. It makes me happy to say that we were a part of something special."

When Mathies and Henderson arrived, few would have forecasted that kind of success. Over the two seasons prior - Mitchell's first as head coach - the Cats went a combined 33-32 with a pair of NIT berths. Coming into 2009-10 experts predicted similar results, but they didn't know about the radical change that was taking place.

"And so the flag is placed in the ground at the moment that A'dia stepped on campus," Mitchell said. "She's not the sole reason, but that's the moment. That is absolutely the moment that it changed into something very, very different than what it was."

Coinciding with Mathies' arrival was the evolution of Victoria Dunlap into a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. With Dunlap, Mathies and UK Hoops' new "40 minutes of dread" style of play, the Cats won 28 games and advanced to within a game of the Final Four to set the tone for what Mathies' four years as a Wildcat would be like.

"When we were being recruited, UK was a .500-level team," Mathies said. "To come in here and automatically change around the first year, we had no expectations for us. It just changed the whole culture and nature for UK basketball. I just went out there head first and it came out good and I'm glad it did."

She may not have expected the success to come so quickly, but Mathies chose Kentucky due in large part to her belief that she could play a major role in making the program a national power.

Coming from Iroquois High School in Louisville, Mathies saw what Angel McCoughtry did for the Cardinal program and was frequently asked whether she would follow in McCoughtry's footsteps. She wanted to do just that, but not by following her to U of L.

"I kind of wanted to be that person for this side: that person to change the program and make it an elite program," Mathies said. "Even though I had no expectations, we ended up doing it and I am just glad I made that decision."

Brittany Henderson has 389 points and 460 rebounds over 129 games as a Wildcat. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Brittany Henderson has 389 points and 460 rebounds over 129 games as a Wildcat. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Particularly this season and last - when she succeeded Dunlap as SEC Player of the Year - Mathies has been the face of the program. Henderson, on the other hand, has occupied a supporting role. After starting 22 games and averaging 19.9 minutes as a sophomore and making 15 more starts as a junior, Henderson has taken a step back during her senior year with the arrival of talented post players DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker.

Walker and Stallworth are two of the five players now on the UK roster that were McDonald's All-Americans in high school. Ironically, Mitchell says her development as a player and a person is a reason why the talent level has risen and Henderson has moved into a backup role.

"Brittany came here as a very low ranked player in recruiting rankings," Mitchell said. "... But she came here unheralded and early on started developing and started working and started showing that if you came to Kentucky the coaches were going to work with you and help you develop in all areas of your life."

The Pasadena, Calif., native is talented enough to play a bigger role at many other schools, but she wants no part of the what-if game.

"I'm just glad I chose Kentucky and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world," Henderson said.

Henderson and Mathies might not harbor any thoughts about changing the past, but they certainly have goals for the limited time they still have left as Wildcats. That starts on Sunday against No. 8 Tennessee.

The Lady Volunteers may have clinched the regular-season league championship and ended UK's bid at a second straight SEC title on Thursday, but UK-Tennessee has become more of a rivalry with each passing season. That alone is significant to Mathies.

"Our freshmen year it would have just been like any other game," Mathies said. "With the program being the way it has been the last few years and us being a team that's on top, like being in the top ten in the nation and stuff like that, it means a lot. It shows a transfer between Tennessee being dominant and now you see Kentucky up there."

Finishing her Kentucky career with a win over the Lady Vols would be fitting for Mathies, but she has an even more ambitious objective in mind.

"It's definitely our goal to get to the Final Four," Mathies said. "I think that is the next step. Me and (Henderson) have been to two Elite Eights since we have been here. We want to take the next step and make it to the Final Four and actually become the elite team that we know we can be is the ultimate goal."

In fact, she has more than one goal.

"We want to win an SEC (tournament) championship, but even further than that is the goal to win a national championship and go out on top," Mathies said.

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