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Mathies' meaning to UK Hoops unchanged by bitter end

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A'dia Mathies finishes her career with 2,014 points, second most in school history. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies finishes her career with 2,014 points, second most in school history. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky women's basketball will never be the same. It may get better, or it might get worse, but Matthew Mitchell's UK team will never again have A'dia Mathies.

The No. 2 seeded Wildcats fell to the top-seeded Connecticut Huskies in the Elite Eight Monday night, 83-53, in a game that never really went as planned.

It certainly wasn't the way that Matthew Mitchell hoped to see his senior and the two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year walk off the court for the final time.

"I just hate we performed the way we did tonight and sent her out this way," said Mitchell of Mathies. "I have to make sure that the contribution that she made and the tremendous impact she made doesn't get lost on a real tough 40 minutes for us."

The contributions are countless.

Mathies was the 2013 AP SEC Player of the Year and Co-Player of the Year as voted by the coaches as the first player to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons in the conference since 2006. She is the first UK basketball player (men or women) to accumulate 2,000 points, 600 rebounds, 300 steals and 300 assists in a career. She is the program's all-time leader in steals with 317. She ranks in the top 10 on 13 different UK career lists.

Her arrival at Kentucky marked the beginning of a monumental turnaround of the program. After being picked last in the SEC before her freshman season, the Wildcats have gone 111-30 (.730), including a 64-3 mark at home, during her time wearing UK blue. She helped lead the Wildcats to their first SEC regular-season championships in 30 years, advanced to the Wildcats to a school-record four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, and along with fellow senior Brittany Henderson is part of the winningest class in program history.

Those are just the highlights. The list goes on much longer.

To make a long story short, Kentucky is not the Kentucky of today without her.

"Just for Kentucky women's basketball, we have an opportunity to be disappointed on a night like tonight," said Mitchell of Mathies. "Not too very long ago we wouldn't even have had a chance to be in a game like this. The disappointment is great and we're really, really upset to have played this way and to have been beaten this way, but A'dia's been a major factor in the resurgence of our program, so we're grateful to her."

Mitchell's gratitude to Mathies can probably never properly be fully expressed.

Since Mathies came to Kentucky, Mitchell has seen his program rise to national prominence as UK reached three Elite Eights in Mathies' four years. During that time, Mitchell has received a contract extension that has brought great financial security to him and his family and great support to his program.

Mathies has deeply affected Mitchell's life and his program for years to come.

"Being able to coach her clearly changed my wife Jenna's and my life," said Mitchell. "We've been real successful at Kentucky from the standpoint of having some stability and having a chance coach there, and you only get to do that if you win games. A'dia's helped us win a bunch of games, so I'm grateful to her."

Mathies fought hard to fight back emotion, and as usual, being the tough competitor that she is, she was stone-faced after her last game as a Wildcat. Though the loss and the taste of defeat was fresh in her mind, she still was able to sense her pride in all that she's been able to accomplish while wearing the Blue and White.

She also knows that she helped change the program into a better place than when she first arrived.

"I feel like it's been a great turnaround," said Mathies. "I'm glad that I can leave here and look back that Kentucky is a national powerhouse now. You know, we've got McDonald's All-Americans coming in left and right and just great people who care about you. I'm just glad that I came here and I'm glad that I didn't go anywhere else."

Mathies didn't go down quietly in her final game, although she saw fewer minutes than she would have liked. Early foul trouble gave her fewer opportunities on the floor and limited her ability to be aggressive on the offensive end. Yet she rallied to finish with 14 points - 11 after halftime - to lead her team as she has done so many times throughout her career.

Now, Mathies looks forward to a career in the WNBA where she will likely be a first-round draft pick. Whatever she chooses to do for the rest of her life, Mitchell just wants her to be happy.

"I hope she has much success like my hope is for everyone," said Mitchell. "I hope she's very successful in whatever she chooses to do, and at some point all of these players will not be able to play basketball and it be very meaningful in their lives as far as how they are defined as basketball players. A lot of times, we look at these kids as what their value is as a player.

"I hope she has a very good career as long as she wants to play basketball, but I really hope she's benefited from her time at Kentucky. I hope she is able to have a really successful life in whatever she chooses to do."

The night was tough all the way around on Monday, and there wasn't much success to be found. Mitchell said the UConn whipped Kentucky in every way imaginable in the Elite Eight, and the score suggests that was true. He also said that he wouldn't let one loss define his program and that going forward the future is still bright, though the Cats will have to fill a major void.

"We will not be deterred because of one tough, tough game that we played tonight and didn't do well in," said Mitchell. "We will march forward and we have some good kids right now and we'll keep working at it and keep showing up. I believe at some point it will happen, or I don't need to be sitting up here if I don't."

But Mathies never will again.

She finishes her career with 2,014 points, giving her the second most in program history. She is just the second player in the history of the program to reach the 2,000-point plateau. But in terms of impact on Kentucky women's basketball and the team that she'll walk away from with her head held high, her contributions are second to none.

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