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SEC Tournament notebook: UK Hoops preps for title run

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Kentucky begins play in the SEC Tournament at 6 p.m. ET on Friday against either Vanderbilt or Missouri. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky begins play in the SEC Tournament at 6 p.m. ET on Friday against either Vanderbilt or Missouri. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky women's basketball team arrived in Duluth, Ga., Thursday evening to settle in for what the Wildcats hope is a run at a Southeastern Conference Tournament championship. The Wildcats started that journey Thursday afternoon at the Suwanee Sports Academy where they held their first practice in the Peach State. Kentucky won't know whether it will face Vanderbilt or Missouri in the quarterfinals until later in the evening, but the Cats practiced the things that they do well to stay sharp.

Head coach Matthew Mitchell and senior guard A'dia Mathies spoke with the media after practice about the 2013 SEC Tournament. Here are a few quick hitters from today's media opportunity:

Cats not just happy to be here

Mitchell knows that his team is excited about being in Duluth for the SEC Tournament, but they aren't just happy to be competing. They have come down to Georgia not looking for a soul to steal, but rather an SEC Tournament championship, a run that will begin at 6 p.m. ET on Friday.

After experiencing disappointment over not repeating as SEC regular-season champions this season, UK is looking to take revenge on anyone who stands in its way as the Cats look to win the tournament crown, a title that eluded them in 2012. While last year UK hoped to win the title, this year, it's an expectation.

"I think we're on a mission more so than we have been in years past," Mathies said. "We feel like we're the best team in the tournament and I think we're going to go out there and show it."

Mitchell would tend to agree. While he may not call UK the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, he knows he's got the team to do it.

"It really excites me to have the chance to (win the tournament)," Mitchell said. "We'll have to win (Friday) and we'll put everything we can into it. I'm really, really excited about having a team that has a legitimate chance to cut down the nets."

Kentucky has been playing championship-caliber basketball all season long, but hasn't had much to show for it once Tennessee locked up the regular-season title.

After defeating the Volunteers in convincing fashion last Sunday on Mathies' and fellow senior Brittany Henderson's Senior Day, the Wildcats know for sure that the tournament title, what would be the first for Mathies and a crowning jewel to cap off her career at Kentucky, is well within reach.

"Tennessee's a great team, always has been," said Mathies. "Just getting a win over a talented team and a top-10 opponent, we really needed that."

Mathies looking to go out on top

Mathies will be playing in her final SEC games this weekend here in Duluth, and nothing would be greater than walking off the floor Sunday with a brand new t-shirt, a ball cap and a strand of net in her hand. The senior has done it all of Kentucky. She's been a scorer, a defender, a facilitator, but even more so now, she's grown into a leader.

In her fourth season, Mitchell recounts just how much Mathies has grown during her time as a Wildcat and how important that is for their title implications this weekend.

"She's really progressed all four years, so she is more vocal than she was before," said Mitchell. "She knows what needs to happen for us to win. She's done a great job. She's in a great frame of mind right now for the tournament."

Mathies is starting to feel the finality of her time as a Wildcat as well. Urgency has set in. She knows it's now or never for her if she hopes to earn some SEC Tournament hardware. With that in mind, she's made a conscious effort to make sure that's she constantly communicating with her teammates to put them and herself in the best position to succeed.

"I think I'm more vocal," said Mathies. "This is my last go-round. Our players know my capabilities and what I can contribute on the court, so when we're in the huddle, I'm telling them things we need to work on. I've taken more (of a vocal role)."

Not only would it mean a lot for Mathies to go out as an SEC Champion, but it would mean just as much for Mitchell to see his superstar, the one who has helped take his program to national prominence, put one more ring on her finger.

"I think she's really confident right now," said Mitchell. "She's had a terrific SEC season. She's clearly one of the top players in the country and I know that an SEC Tournament championship would mean a lot to her and Brittany Henderson as well. We're going to work hard to try and get it."

Depth, post play should give UK edge

Kentucky's "40 minutes" mantra has been a successful brand of basketball all season long for the Wildcats. On the surface, that type of constant energy and effort doesn't seem to translate well in a tournament setting when UK will have to play three straight days in order to win their coveted SEC Tournament championship. UK's not-so-secret weapon, however, has been their depth.

All opponents UK faces from here on out will have had previous games in the tournament under their belts, and therefore, will not be as fresh. Though UK, after Friday's game, will also have a game under its belt and a concerted effort to milk Kentucky's depth will be the focus for Mitchell this weekend. This will give Kentucky the chance to play at maximum effort, like the Cats have all season long, and give them plenty of rest when necessary.

"I think that we certainly have more depth than anyone else in the tournament," said Mitchell. "In the post, that's big if we can get our post players running the floor with a great effort and a lot of energy. I think that could be a big, big advantage for Kentucky in this tournament."

Kentucky bigs will play an important role, and with multiple, capable post players at Mitchell's command, the Wildcats should have no trouble continuing to play their up-tempo brand throughout the tournament. Mathies, a maestro of the fast-paced ball her team likes to play, knows her personnel as well as anyone. That's why she is confident her team is more than capable of making a championship run.

"I just feel like we have more talent and more people have bought into their roles," said Mathies. "I feel like we're doing a good job of using our depth this year and we really focus on that. I think it's going to help us."

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