Tennessee appeared to have the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team on the ropes after rallying from a 12-point deficit to take a one-point lead with 12 seconds left, but A’dia Mathies had different plans.
After UK head coach Matthew Mitchell called a play to get Mathies the ball in isolation, the junior guard went past a Tennessee defender and hit a floater with 4.2 seconds on the clock to send UK to a 61-60 win.
“A’dia had just taken us so far and brought us to that point, so I just thought we’d put the ball in her hands and see what happens,” Mitchell said. “She came through like a top caliber player that she is.”
“I took a one-on-one, and I got past her,” Mathies said. “I saw a couple of trees and shot it and it went in.”
Mathies finished the game with 34 points and nine rebounds. She was one of just two UK players to finish with a double-digit point total.
“I was really, real happy that she played up to the level of the gifts God has given her,” Mitchell said. “She really played up to her talent tonight.”
The Wildcats appeared to have the game in control after a Mathies free throw gave them a 12-point lead with 7:46 left in the game, but Tennessee then reeled off a 22-7 run to take a 60-57 lead with 1:24 remaining.
Mathies scored off an offensive rebound with 46 seconds left to pull UK within one, then freshman guard Bria Goss took a charge to give the Wildcats the ball back with 28 seconds remaning.
After the Volunteers stopped UK’s initial plan to give Mathies the ball off a screen, Mitchell called a timeout with 12 seconds left to draw up the final play.
“They trapped and did a really good job, so we called a timeout,” Mitchell said. “To try to avoid anything we just went with a one-four flat. We haven’t done that much — as in ever.”
“I was going to try to request (the play) because I knew they were going to do another ball screen, they were going to trap and I was probably going to have to give the ball up,” Mathies said. “I wanted the ball in my hands. He said to go to a one-four flat, and I knew if I could just get past her we had a shot. The shot went in.”
The win snapped Tennessee’s 36-game SEC winning streak and UK’s four-game losing streak to the Volunteers. UK moved to 4-0 in SEC play for the first time in program history.
“I’m extremely proud of the players tonight,” Mitchell said. “They played their tails off. They could not have played any harder or with any greater effort or with any greater resolve or with any greater character to bounce back from disappointment tonight.”
“I just think it (makes) people aware that Kentucky is out there,” said UK senior guard Keyla Snowden, who scored 11 points. “We’re coming to compete against whoever we play against.”
While Mitchell repeatedly noted how happy he was with the win and how proud he was of his players, he cautioned that the team must maintain the proper perspective.
“Emotionally, what you have to do is understand that it could have gone either way,” he said. “It was not as good as it looks tonight, and it wouldn’t have been as bad if we had lost by one.
“There’s nothing for us to do but enjoy it tonight, but you really have to stay focused here. If we lose tonight and win at South Carolina (Sunday) we’re 4-1 in the conference, and if we win tonight and lose at South Carolina we’re 4-1 in the conference.”
But Mathies’ play did signal one key aspect of UK’s recent rise to prominence, Mitchell said.
“That’s why recruiting is so important,” he said. “That was not a real genius coaching move there. That was a great player making a big-time play. That’s the formula. That’s how Tennessee has won so many games over the years: great players making great plays. We did a good day’s work when we signed A’dia Mathies. She really is an outstanding player.”