“We didn’t come here to lose in the second round, we came here to cut down nets”-A’dia Mathies
This quote from SEC Player of the Year Mathies resonated in the press conference last night after the Cats defeated Georgia to lock up their spot in the SEC Championship. Kentucky is in the title game for the third time in the last four years, but have only won the tournament once in school history…a whooping 31 years ago. A win tonight would be the kind of “getting over the hump” victory UK needs to solidify themselves as one of the nation’s best programs, and as a team that can cause serious damage in the big dance.
We can all be happy that for the first time since 2004, a team NOT from the state of Tennessee will be holding up the league trophy this year, and that is a victory for the human race. Tonight’s championship matchup features the two seed and 7th ranked Kentucky Wildcats and the four seed and 19th ranked Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies have made quite the splash in their first year as a SEC team, and Coach Gary Blair has made a perfect transition into the league. A&M pulled off the upset of the tournament last night, as they defeated the top seeded Tennessee Volunteers, and sent thousands of orange clad fans back to hell…I mean Knoxville.
The Cats and the Aggies have met twice already this season, with Kentucky coming away from each game with a victory. UK won 65-62 in Lexington, and followed that up with a tough 70-66 road win in College Station. Both games were different, and featured large leads from both teams, come from behind efforts, and monster individual performances, but the Cats were able to gut it out against the fighting Kelsey Bone’s both times on the court. Beating a team three times in one season is always a tough task, but Kentucky isn’t nervous about the Aggies catching up to them. They know they can beat this team at home, on the road, and now on a neutral court.
A&M and Kentucky feature two of the deepest teams in the nation. Mitchell has used the “five in five out” substitutions, and look for that to continue today. While this is the third game in three days for both teams, don’t expect to see fatigue as a factor tonight. These players are extremely well conditioned, and it’s championship Sunday! The Aggies feature numerous players who can go off on any given night, namely 1st team All-SEC Kelsey Bone. Bone torched the Cats in Lexington for 27 points, and leads the conference in field goal percentage. When point guard Adrienne Pratcher is feeding the ball into the post for Bone, the Aggies are at their best. The Cats must use their patented defensive pressure and continue to make shots consistently to slow down A&M who is riding high on tons of emotion after last night’s huge victory.
Mitchell lauded the importance of point guard Jennifer O’Neills play last night saying she MUST play like the best point guard in the league, and continue to press the ball and look for the open pass. In Kentucky’s three conference losses, O’Neill looked frazzled, out of control, and stressed. She must maintain composure against the onslaught of the Aggies, but luckily UK has the confidence factor against the maroon and white. This is A’dia Mathies’ last go around in the SEC Tournament, and a big night from the senior wouldn’t be surprising.
Hayley and I were the first ones in the arena this afternoon, and are set up on the first row courtside. Look for us on TV on ESPN2 at 6, but mainly look at the fight, heart, and determination of this UK Hoops team as they try to accomplish something that hasn’t been done for over three decades. This team is hungry for rings, and as I stare up at the net on the basket right in front of me, I know they can do it. Go freaking Cats. Join us here on KSR for the live blog starting at 5:45!