Cats use Mathies’ career night to shake Liberty, advance


The Kentucky Women’s basketball team waves to fans after defeating the Liberty Flames in the first round of NCAA tournament play at Freedom Hall on Saturday, March 20, 2010. Photo by Scott Hannigan

LOUISVILLE—The Cats’ fairy tale season was not going to be ended by a Cinderella.

A’dia Mathies, the calm and collected freshman guard and Louisville native, was simply not going to allow it, as she scored a career-high 32 points to lead fourth-seeded UK (26-7, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) past pesky 13th-seeded Liberty (27-6), 83-77. It was the most points by a UK player in an NCAA Tournament game.

Although UK won the game, the Lady Flames won the battle of the boards, outscoring the Cats in the paint, off the bench, on the fast break and on second chance opportunities to give the Cats a scare in their first NCAA Tournament game since 2006.

“I didn’t know what to expect (coming in),” Mathies said. “Fortunately, some of my shots started falling in the first half, so that gave me a boost in confidence, and helped my team get on a roll.”

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said when the Cats came out, they  performed like they hadn’t played in more than a week, but  Mathies’ performance showed no signs of jitters or sluggishness.

“(Mathies) has that quiet confidence about herself,” Mitchell said. “Great players can sense when they need to raise their level and she really kept us in it … pretty remarkable performance if you ask me.”

Liberty jumped out to a 13-4 lead early, before UK responded with a 17-0 run, including six points in 15 seconds, thanks to its characteristic pressure defense.

However, the Cats were inconsistent with their defensive intensity and allowed the Lady Flames to get back into the game with an 11-0 run of their own. Liberty had a 35-33 advantage at the intermission and was keen to extend their 10-game winning streak in the role of spoiler.

Mathies will look to provide an encore performance on Monday at 7 p.m. in Freedom Hall against fifth-seeded Michigan State, who won over No. 12 seed Bowling Green earlier in the day.

The Spartans ended the Cats’ NCAA Tournament run in 2006, with a second-round victory. Michigan State was the four seed that time, with UK being the fifth seed. The Cats lost 67-63.

UK better matched Liberty’s intensity on the boards in the second half, sophomore guard Keyla Snowden shook her early shooting woes from beyond the arc and Mathies continued to attack the size of Liberty post players en route to victory.

“(Mathies) does a great job of attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line,” Liberty head coach Carey Green said. “I think that was obviously the difference in the game.”

The entire Lady Flames’ team got to the charity stripe 16 times. Mathies alone outscored Liberty at the free-throw line making 12-of-17.

Liberty’s size, one reason it led the nation in rebounding margin coming into the game, was a concern for UK head coach Matthew Mitchell, with Big South Player of the Year Devon Brown and fellow frontcourt player Avery Warley each averaging eight rebounds per game. Brown finished with 24 points and three rebounds, while Warley added 17 points and 14 rebounds, but neither could upstage Mathies.

As expected, the UK fans offered the biggest fan base of the four teams playing in Freedom Hall, providing a homecourt-type edge.

“It means a lot,” Mathies said on playing in front of her family and friends. “Especially just to be able to play another game for Kentucky in front of my fans, family and friends that came out.

“I think this game will give us a boost of confidence for the next game, especially since none of us have been here before, it’ll help us out in the long run.”