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By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes
UK Hoops (14-1, 2-0 SEC) have been seldom challenged so far this season, a road loss to Baylor aside, Matthew Mitchell’s ship was mainly on cruise control until his squad battled Florida and Alabama last weekend, pulling out two hard-fought victories.
Now the Cats delve deeper, looking ahead to No. 20 Texas A&M on Thursday, facing the Aggies for the first time in school history.
Texas A&M is the first ranked team UK has faced since beating then No. 7 Louisville a month ago, and the first ranked opponent to visit Memorial Coliseum this season.
The Aggies are 12-4 overall and 2-0 in the SEC, their charge led by junior Kelsey Bone, who averages an SEC-leading 17.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Though ranked, the Aggies have lost to every top-25 opponent they have faced this season, including Louisville, Penn State, Connecticut and Notre Dame, by 47 points combined.
“We’ve certainly played some teams with talented players, but top to bottom, this is a very talented basketball team that Texas A&M brings to Memorial Coliseum,” Mitchell said. “We’ll have to play extremely hard and execute well. I think we’ll have to be really sharp and focused tomorrow night because they definitely present a big challenge.”
The Cats will be looking to the leadership of senior A’dia Mathies Thursday. When it comes to traversing the SEC portion of the schedule, few know the way better than Mathies, who helped Mitchell win the SEC regular season championship last season en route to garnering SEC Player of the Year honors.
The predicted favorite to win it again this season, she has not shied from the challenge, scoring a combined 37 points against the Gators and the Tide.
After beating Florida, Mitchell said that Mathies gave his team a greater level of composure on both sides of the ball, composure that may have otherwise been absent on this team full of new faces.
Mitchell’s starting lineup last weekend and for most of the season has included two players that didn’t see a single minute of court time in 2011-12 in redshirt sophomore guard Jennifer O’Neill and junior transfer forward DeNesha Stallworth.
Rounding out the starting five that has gone 11-0 so far this season are Mathies, sophomore Bria Goss and junior Samarie Walker — all three stalwarts from last season’s SEC run.
Also featuring big this season has been freshman guard Janee Thompson, who many may remember for showing veteran-like poise in scoring the final points of the last-minute victory over the rival Cardinals.
With the meeting against the Aggies looming, a few records hang on the line. First, the Cats will look to extend their school-record 13-game win streak that is tied with No. 4 Duke as the longest in the nation. Also, with a win over Texas A&M, the Cats would also set the school record for home wins at 31.
UK Hoops’ clash with the Aggies on Thursday gets underway at 6 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. The game will be televised on the UK IMG network.