Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Kentucky's A'dia Mathies -- The Best Player in the Best League
At times, she is the best player in the best conference.
Senior guard A’dia Mathies leads the Kentucky Wildcats into every Southeastern Conference fight.
She earned the best in conference tag last season as UK ascended onto the national scene. She was reanointed as the preseason player of the year in conference and is on every national watch list for countrywide rewards.
She has her ’Cats in the Top 10 in America and second in the SEC. They trail only resurgent Tennessee in the league. Texas A&M is also a game back. The Aggies hadn’t lost in their new league before that and they haven’t lost since.
Even though both A&M and UK have one league loss, they do play again this season.
Mathies averages almost 20 points per game (19.8) in league play and has the best shooting percentage in the SEC (.53 percent) from the the 3-point arc.
She is guaranteed to end in Top 10 of 12 career lists at UK, including third in steals (282) and fourth in scoring (1,727).
In the big early matchup of the year so far, she determinedly led UK past A&M. In the midseason big game of the year, she hit for 12, the 18th straight game in double figures, in the loss at South Carolina. The last conference big game of the year (besides the A&M rematch) is the last game of the regular season when Tennessee visits.
Her coach, Matthew Mitchell, expected much from his senior leader.
“I just want her to take the most shots,” he said.
“I just want her to be the person with the most shot attempts every night. It is a good formula for us, because if she is aggressive, she is going to find a way. She is deadly from the 3-point line right now and you have to guard that. And then you saw her mid-range game and you saw that shot fake where she can put it on the floor, so she is really, really hard to guard when she is shooting the ball the way she is now. She was huge in this game, I am really proud of her.”
Mathies is proudest of course of Kentucky’s defense, which is why they are where they are.
As for the pressure defense, Mathies said, “It felt great. We kept putting pressure on them and running them as much as we could and we felt like we had depth so we could sub where they couldn’t. We feel like they eventually got tired and we were able to open up the game.”
She knows they have to keep the intensity the whole game through.
“I think it’s hard sometimes but I think any team is capable of a run at any time,” she said. “You can play the best defense and they can throw up a wild shot and it goes in. They had a segment where they were making a lot of baskets that they weren’t making the whole game. I felt like we regrouped after that and had to work even harder to eliminate those baskets at the end which we did.”
Even in a game in which she missed just one shot, scoring a career-best 24 against Auburn, she saw a way to improve.
“I really didn’t feel it— definitely not in warmups. I didn’t even know I just missed one shot. I was just out there playing and luckily the shots went in and my teammates did a great job of setting me up.
“You can’t just shut one player down and expect to shut the whole team down. There are too many great players that can score. It makes us a great team.”
She does not discount any SEC opponent.
“I believe the SEC is the greatest conference. Every time you go out there to play, you can take a loss,” she said. “There is no team that you can think ‘oh, we’re going to beat them.’ No, definitely not. Everybody has to prepare every night and stay focused everyday. I think it just goes to show how great of a league this is.
“I think, with every game, it’s important. We’ve got to go out there and rebound. Coach always tells us that the champions in the SEC are great offensive rebounding teams and are great rebounding teams in general. So we just go in there and try and crash the boards on both sides and we tried to block out so they couldn’t get the ball.”
THE RANKED SEC TEAMS
•No. 5 Kentucky took on No. 18 South Carolina on the road. It was 19-19 at intermission and 43-43 with a little under seven minutes left. South Carolina turned up the heat and won out, 12-7, or 55-50 for a final.
As projected here last week, it keeps SC relevant in conference, in third place.
Two of UK’s top three scorers, Jennifer O’Neill (17 points) and Denesha Stallworth (12) fouled out, Stallworth in 26 minutes of play. "This was the first time we have faced serious adversity," O'Neil said. "Like coach said, we didn't have poise." Mitchell also said his team was not interested in being competitive this night.
Demonstrating the strength of the SEC, SC had been allowing 47.6 points per game, Kentucky 51.8. Kentucky had the nation’s best turnover margin (causing 10.4 per game). But SC had scored four more than the UK average while allowing just three more.
Five of the last seven meetings have been decided by eight points or less, including the last four in a row. The series is tied at 2-2 in those games.
UK’s winning streak of 17, the nation’s best, has ended. The ’Cats get every team’s best shot, but regrouped easily against LSU, extending the school-record home winning streak to 34. They now have 19 wins and will the first league team to 20.
And they get a week off in the rotation.
“Hopefully we can refresh a little bit this week,” Mitchell said.
“We don’t have the game looming on Thursday. We can get a bit of mental break where we can just spend time focused on some things that we can sharpen up this week without that game preparation. The players just need to take a deep breath here. They’ve done a fantastic job halfway through the schedule.
“They just need to get a little bit of rest mentally, physically and try to come back with a little pep in their step as we get ready for Georgia.”
“We just wanted to get the lesson from the South Carolina game. We wanted to go out and play as tough as we could the whole 40 minutes and not let the other team be more aggressive than us, and I think we did that today.
“I think we are going to use this to keep the momentum moving forward.”
Showing team depth, sophomore Azia Bishop scored 17, against a 3.2 average, vs. LSU. Mathies kept her dpuble-figure steak alive with 15.
•That leaves the top spot to still-undefeated in conference No. 9 Tennessee.
It had won nine straight (second in conference to UK) before interrupting the conference run with a national game against No. 2 Notre Dame. They can go on another run until A&M comes in to close the month.
Before the ND game, they took care of in-state rival Vanderbilt, 83-75, at Vandy. Thought they have beaten the Commodores 25 of the past 27 meetings, last year’s schizophrenic season showed there with a loss. UT has not lost in conference since, 11 straight.
Taber Spani scored a career-high 24 and Meighan Simmons added 23.
.•No. 14 Georgia erased Florida by plenty in its lone game this week and has the Feb. 3 game at Kentucky as a chance to get back in the league race, two games back. They led by as many as 25, coasting all the way.
Against the Gators, the ’Dawgs had three starters in low double-figures.
•No. 16 Texas A&M embarrassed Mississippi State and thumped fellow league newcomer Missouri at home. They have that lone SEC loss at Kentucky, tied for second with the ’Cats. They hit 60 percent from the field against State.
The Aggies completed their week’s work by welcoming fellow league newcomer Missouri to their place for another wipeout. Adrienne Pratcher hit six 3-pointers.
They have two more winnable games this week
•No. 18 South Carolina built on its road success with a close win at Arkansas. They didn’t score in the final few minutes, but had enough. With 18 wins, they will once again be in the big tournament, a group they joined last season after nine years away. SC is 5-2 in the league, the best start in coach Dawn Staley’s tenure. SC has three winnable games before Texas A&M visits Feb. 10.
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