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No title on the line, but Tennessee game still a big deal for UK Hoops

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A'dia Mathies scored 34 points including the game-winning basket with 4.2 seconds left to lead UK to a home win over Tennessee last season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies scored 34 points including the game-winning basket with 4.2 seconds left to lead UK to a home win over Tennessee last season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
UK Hoops was hoping to be playing for all the marbles on Sunday, but it didn't work out that way,

A UK loss to LSU last weekend and pair of wins by Tennessee meant the end of the Wildcats' bid for a second Southeastern Conference regular-season title in a row. It meant the end of the possibility that the Cats might be able to clinch it on Senior Day against the Lady Volunteers.

So with their title hopes dashed, is UK primed for a letdown? Not even close. The Cats have plenty to play for.

That starts with A'dia Mathies and Brittany Henderson, the two seniors UK will honor about 20 minutes prior to Sunday's tipoff (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU).

"There are a lot of things at stake here but none more important to me than just trying to get A'dia and Brittany out of here only losing three times during their career instead of four," Matthew Mitchell said.

Mathies and Henderson make up the winningest class in UK Hoops history. They have won 105 games over their career, more than half of which (53) have come in Memorial Coliseum. The No. 10 Cats (24-4, 12-3 SEC) were unbeaten at home during their freshman and junior years and are 15-1 this season. Their record will be impressive no matter what, but it seems only right to send them off with a win.

"That's to me the biggest thing and I don't know how we could find a better place to motivate ourselves than trying to get that done," Mitchell said.

The Memorial crowd will be doing everything in its power to make that happen. UK announced the game was a sellout two weeks ago and Mitchell sees sending them home happy as going hand-in-hand with giving Mathies and Henderson a proper farewell.

"Nothing more important to me than just giving our fans who have bought every ticket that could be bought out there for this game a great, great victory for them to enjoy and also to send A'dia and Brittany off with a win," Mitchell said. "That to me is the most important about Sunday afternoon."

And that doesn't even begin to address the game's postseason implications. UK can lock down the second seed in the SEC Tournament with a win, not to mention build its NCAA resume.

"It's a very important game," Mitchell said. "No conference championship is on the line but you win this game, I would have to think we would be the top-rated team in the conference with the RPI and the polls and those things I think play some type of role in the NCAA Tournament selection and where you are seeded so a lot is riding on the game still."

Oh yeah, and it's Tennessee.

The Lady Volunteers (23-5, 14-1 SEC) have been the SEC's standard bearer for the better part of two decades and come in ranked No. 8. Guard Meighan Simmons (17.8 points per game) leads a dynamic Tennessee offense that is averaging nearly 80 points and has scored 82 points or more in four of its last five games.

"They can really score a bunch of points," Mitchell said. "They're really, really explosive offensively and just trying to find a way to see if we can slow them down on the offensive end of the court is, to me, the biggest challenge we have facing going into the game."

The challenge, however, doesn't seem nearly as insurmountable as it did just four years ago when Mathies and Henderson arrived. UK and Tennessee split their season series in 2011-12 and Mathies has a hard time thinking of a more fitting way to end her final collegiate regular season than taking on the Lady Vols in a nationally televised game.

"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."

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