With Kentucky’s first opponent in the SEC tournament not being decided until 6 p.m. Thursday, coach Matthew Mitchell finds it difficult to focus on scouting two other teams. Instead, he’s completely keyed into how Kentucky can be the best version of Kentucky. He is telling his players they have to concentrate on their own attitudes and mindsets heading into Friday.
The team also had a meeting before practice Thursday about what they could do to fulfill their true potential.
“We’ve just tried to define what it looks like for Kentucky to play well… and what we’re doing when we’re playing well,” Mitchell said. “The players did a really good job of coming up with four or five real specific things we need to do no matter who we’re playing for Kentucky to play well. I think the focus has to be on our team – what we can do to play our best basketball because you really can’t predict who you’re going to play.”
SEC Tournament special to coach Mitchell
Mitchell believes the women’s SEC tournament is one of the best sporting events in the country. He said he enjoys the prospect of seeing some of the same fans who travel to the tournament year in and year out, and he enjoys the competition that SEC play brings, especially during postseason play. But those things are what he is always excited about: this year, the coach is even happier than usual to be participating.
"It’s just really outstanding year after year to see the quality of play in the tournament and I think this year in particular the champion will have played some great basketball to cut down those nets on Sunday,” he said. “It really excites me to have the chance to do that…I’m really, really excited about having a team that has a legitimate shot to cut down the nets.”
With the reigning two-time SEC Player of the Year in A’dia Mathies, one SEC first-teamer in DeNesha Stallworth and one All-Defensive team selection in Samarie Walker, the Cats are one of the favorites to take down the nets Sunday. UK Hoops soundly defeated the tournament’s one-seed, Tennessee, on Sunday in the regular season finale.
Mathies ready to add to her repertoire
She has racked up all kinds of individual awards, but what does Mathies really want out of her senior year? A championship, she has said. And this year will be her best chance so far to reach that goal, in her eyes.
“I think we’re on a mission more so than we have been in years past,” she said. “We feel like we’re the best team in the tournament and I think we’ll go out there and show it.”
Mathies said the talent level for this year’s team was higher than in her other three years at UK, and that this year’s team has used its depth to its advantage in finding success.
In addition to the team’s talent level throughout four years, Mathies’ leadership has also transitioned. Coming in as a quiet, introverted freshman, Mathies leaves as a seasoned veteran.
“I think I’m more vocal,” she said. “This is my last go-round. I know a lot of the players know my capabilities and know what I can contribute to them on the court. I’ve taken more of a role vocally.”
Mitchell agreed with that assessment.
“She’s really progressed all four years and so she is more vocal than she was before,” he said. “She knows what needs to happen for us to win and she’s done a great job. I think she’s in a great frame of mind right now for the tournament.”
Post play a strength heading into postseason
With post players DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker playing some of their best basketball right at the beginning of postseason play, Kentucky is ready to consider their production a strength. The fact that both players can produce while on the court, rather than the team having to rely on just one of them, is also something that will bode well for the Cats come tournament time.
“They’ve been very important,” Mathies said. “We need them… just being able to play two post players consistently throughout the whole year just means a lot because we definitely need that big presence with their height.”
Mitchell added, “I think that we certainly have more depth than anyone else in the tournament. In the post that’s big. If we can get our post players really running the floor with a great effort and a lot of energy, I think that can be a big, big advantage for Kentucky in this tournament.”
UK Hoops practices in arena where several professionals have played
During their time in Georgia for the SEC tournament (played in Duluth), the Cats are practicing at the Suwanee (Ga.) Sports Academy. The academy is known for hosting the annual Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, which has included several big-name professional basketball players during their high school days. The list includes Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. Several former Kentucky players, however, have also played in the TOC at the Suwanee Sports Academy: Ron Mercer (1993), Tayshaun Prince (1997), John Wall (2008), Doron Lamb (2009) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2010).
Players visit children's hospital
As part of the SEC's Time Out in the Community program, A'dia Mathies and Kastine Evans represented Kentucky at a local children's hospital early Thursday.
"I was very excited," Mathies said. "A lot of little kids are less fortunate, with cancer issues and different blood problems. Just being able to go out there and put a smile on their face and just seeing how much we made their day is a very humbling experience."