The Kentucky Wildcats couldn't have asked for much more in their run through nonconference play.
Playing a challenging schedule, the Cats won 12 times in 13 games to establish themselves among the nation's elite. They took down Louisville, their archrival, in a top-10 matchup and used four overtimes to best Baylor in another.
Nonetheless, the Cats believe the best times are ahead of them in Southeastern Conference play.
"Some of the best memories go through the SEC season and now is really when the fun starts," Bria Goss said.
UK (12-1) kicks off conference play at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday against Alabama (7-6). The Crimson Tide is playing its first season under head coach Kristy Curry, but memories of the last two years won't be far from the Cats' minds.
"We have a lot of veterans on our team and they understand the challenge that is ahead of them," Matthew Mitchell said.
In somewhat of a scheduling quirk, UK will travel to Alabama for the third straight season. The Cats won last season, 87-70, on the strength of a late-game burst, but fell in 2011-12 even though they would go on to the league crown. To Mitchell, that's a testament to the strength of the SEC.
"They didn't have a great record, but they had great players and played well that night and beat us," Mitchell said.
The same is true two years later.
Leading the way are Shafontaye Myers and Daisha Simmons. Myers is shooting 44.0 percent from 3-point range, while Simmons is averaging 14.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
"There are some good athletes on that team," Mitchell said. "They push the tempo, so we definitely need to do a good job in transition defense against them. They have really explosive guards."