Mathies a record breaker, program booster for UK



By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes

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Time for some trivia. Get out your UK basketball record books and prepare to start flipping pages.

Here’s the question: How many players, men and women, in the history of UK basketball have recorded 1,800 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 300 steals in their college careers?

The answer: Just one. And she is entering the final weeks of her UK career.

Senior guard A’dia Mathies, just named 2013 SEC Co-Player of the Year with Tennessee’s Meighan Simmons by the league coaches, came to UK four years ago out of Iroquois High School in Louisville, Ky. She was joined by 6-foot-2 forward Brittany Henderson from Pasadena, Calif.

At the time, head coach Matthew Mitchell was about to begin his third season at UK after struggling to 17-16 and 16-16 records in his first two seasons. Mathies and Henderson came to UK on the promise of creating a winning culture. Mitchell said that in their time here, the seniors have turned that promise into a reality.

“These kids have worked hard and they have busted their tail,” Mitchell said. “They came here when we were selling a dream and now they have made it a reality that we can talk about — we can be a good program and we can be a good team.”

That reality is not lost on UK fans, as average home attendance was 6,144 this season, second in the SEC only to Tennessee. Mathies and Henderson have noticed the difference.

“It’s definitely changed. When we got here, we would do fundraising things to try to sell 5,000 season tickets,” Mathies said. “By the time we left, we weren’t doing anything. People were coming to see us.”

“Coming to the gym, you see fans outside with signs that say, ‘I need tickets,’ ” Henderson adds. “I would’ve never thought in a million years people would’ve been outside to get tickets.”

What the fans have shown up to see the past four seasons is a team that has thrice reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, has twice been to the Elite Eight of that tournament and has won the SEC regular season championship for the first time since 1982.

Always at the forefront of Mitchell’s historic program turnaround, Mathies has been a constant for UK each season.

In high school, Mathies was named 2009 Kentucky Miss Basketball. Averaging 17.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.9 steals and 3.8 assists per game, she led Iroquois to a 33-1 record her senior season and won her school’s first state championship. She committed to UK as a Full Court Press High School All-American.

From the get-go, Mathies’ impact was felt at UK, as she started all 36 games and averaged 13.6 points per game her freshman year.

When the Cats made it to the NCAA Tournament, Mathies didn’t shy from the pressure, and she stepped up to score 32 points against Liberty in the first round, the most points ever scored by a UK player in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats reached the Elite Eight that year, and Mathies was awarded UK’s first SEC Freshman of the Year and was named UK’s first freshman All-American since 1980.

As the seasons progressed, so did Mathies, as her stats continued to increase across the board. The Cats won the SEC regular season title and returned to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament two seasons later, with Mathies leading the team in scoring, assists, and steals. She racked up the honors last season, as a finalist for several national player-of-the-year awards and the recipient of the SEC Player of the Year award.

But this season didn’t quite pan out as the team would’ve hoped. Despite winning 13 SEC games for a second consecutive season, the Cats lost the regular season championship to Tennessee. But on the final game of the regular season Sunday, the Cats were able to dismantle the Lady Vols, 78-65, in Memorial Coliseum to clinch the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.

Mathies is used to scoring against the Lady Vols, as her career-high 34 points on Jan. 12, 2012, gave UK its first win over Tennessee since 2009. And it was Mathies again who led the victory against the Lady Vols on Sunday with 16 points, four rebounds, four steals and four assists.

The victory allowed Mathies and Henderson the chance to walk off the court in Memorial for the final time as winners.

“They wanted to see me out the right way,” Mathies says. “I think we definitely did that (against Tennessee). We came out with great energy and effort. We just decided to get a win in Memorial Coliseum for the last time.”

Fittingly, the win also gave Mitchell the most wins in UK Hoops history with 139.

The meaning of the moment wasn’t lost on Mathies.

“(Mitchell) is very passionate and he really loves his job and being here at Kentucky,” Mathies said. “To get a win on senior night, and it being our last night against a rivalry team, I think it was meant to be.”

Looking back, it is clear how integral Mathies has been to Mitchell’s success at UK.

The same seasons that Mathies was named SEC Player of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year (2010 and 2012), Mitchell was named SEC Coach of the Year.

Prior to Mathies’ arrival, Mitchell was 33-32 at UK, including a 21-11 home record. In the four years since Mathies’ commitment to UK, Mitchell is 106-28 with a staggering 64-3 home record.

Acknowledging the legacy that has been left by Mathies, and the ways that she has helped turn the program around, Mitchell expresses only gratitude.

“Thanks,” Mitchell said. “That’s the biggest thing I can say to A’dia Mathies, is thank you for coming to Kentucky and thank you for being who you have been and thank you for growing as a young woman and being a spectacular basketball player that has really injected some life into this basketball program.”

Mathies doesn’t seem too confused about her impact on the program either.

“We really didn’t have any expectations when we first came here. They picked us to finish second to last in the SEC and we ended up finishing second,” Mathies said. “I think each year we just build on it and I think we changed the program around to be the national powerhouse that it is.”

Though the regular season is done, the battle is not over for Mathies, Henderson or Mitchell. The SEC Tournament approaches, with prospects of the NCAA Tournament around the corner.

Perhaps Mathies still has a few more records to chalk up in the history books to make UK basketball trivia that much more legendary.