Kentucky's A'dia Mathies shooting more, and that makes her coach happy

UK's 'silent assassin' excels at keeping emotions in check

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 19, 2012 

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Kentucky's laid-back star, dubbed "the silent assassin" by her teammates, is a puzzle.

Sometimes even to her parents.

"I've been with her 20 years, and I've got to dig and pry sometimes to figure out what's going on in that head," Johnny Mathies said of the youngest of his three children. "Sometimes I read her wrong still."

A'dia's father said from time to time he'll even hear from UK Coach Matthew Mitchell, telling him that it's hard to get a read on Mathies, the Cats' leading scorer, rebounder and defender this season.

The elder Mathies admitted he doesn't offer Mitchell much help in figuring out his daughter.

"She holds a lot of stuff in, and you have to pry to see what's going on in her head," he said of his daughter, who, coincidence or not, is a psychology major and wants to be a therapist.

Throughout A'dia Mathies' three-year career, Mitchell has been calling for the guard to be more aggressive with the ball in her hands, begging her to be more selfish.

The light finally came on during the past five games, not coincidentally all wins for sixth-ranked Kentucky, which now sits atop the Southeastern Conference. It has a road game at No. 15 Georgia on Thursday.

Since SEC play began five games ago, Mathies is averaging a league-best 19.4 points, she's second in the conference in three-pointers and she's hitting nearly half of the ones she's attempting (48 percent).

She's also fifth in the league in blocked shots (1.6 per game) and sixth in assists (3.2 apg).

Asked how he was finally able to flip the Mathies switch, Mitchell smiled.

"She doesn't like to run wind sprints, that's all I can tell you ... she knows that if she's not the leading field goal attempt leader, she has some work to do the next day," Mitchell said.

"It's changed her mind-set. She hasn't had to run and she's a different player."

Mathies admitted last week that the running threat has been a factor.

"At practice he says I have to be the leader or there's going to be a consequence," she said. "And you never want a consequence."

But as it usually is with Mathies, it's more cerebral than that.

"If he's stressing it that much, there must be something to it," she said. "The last couple of games, just seeing how much better we look as a team when I am aggressive, makes me want to do it more."

Going back and watching the Tennessee video a day or two later — in the game where Mathies scored the winning basket with 4.2 seconds left to cap a career night of 34 points — Mitchell doesn't talk about her layup to win it.

He talks about her first shot of the game, a relatively routine jumper that fell easily into the net.

"That first shot she took, I don't think she would have taken if she hadn't changed her mind-set," he said. "She took a shot that you and I would have thought was a great shot, but she probably wouldn't have taken the shot" before. "It was a very aggressive first shot out."

Not too high, not too low

The things about Mathies that make her such a hard read for coaches and even her parents are the things that make her such a good player.

When television basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli looks at that Tennessee win, a game she called from the Memorial Coliseum sidelines, she doesn't want to talk about Mathies' game winner, either.

"The thing I came away most impressed with about her is that she has this businesslike look about her that doesn't change," Antonelli said. "She never gets too high and she never gets too low, and that's a sign of a really good player and a good leader."

Antonelli points out that only a minute before her go-ahead layup, Mathies had thrown away the ball at midcourt.

And yet the guard never displayed her frustration, the same way she never showed much joy after the victory.

"She don't get rattled easily," Johnny Mathies said. "She's got such an easy temperament. When she's doing something fantastic or something exciting, you'd never know it. But when stuff's going bad, it's exactly the same."

Mathies' father said it's a calmness his youngest daughter has shown since she was as small as a basketball.

"She was always an introvert and a little shy," he said. "She takes a long time and observes people and situations."

He jokes that she definitely didn't get it from him and that she isn't always so quiet once she gets to know someone well enough.

"It takes a while, but once she gets comfortable with you, she's pretty much of a clown," he said.

'Highly intelligent'

When Mathies talks about basketball, it's clear that she sees it through a different lens than many people.

During the waning seconds of the win over the Lady Vols, she saw that Tennessee was trapping on ball screens, which would mean she'd have to give up the ball when the trap came.

Mathies wanted the ball in her hands at the end of the game.

So before the Cats got to the bench to draw up the final play, Mathies was ready to request that Mitchell line up the other four players on the baseline to spread out the defense and give her the ball at the top of the key.

The UK coach already had that in mind even though the Cats had never practiced the play this season.

"She is the smartest player that I've ever coached, ever," he said without hesitation. "She's a highly intelligent young woman and she knows the game of basketball."

Mathies balks a little when told of Mitchell's assessment.

"I don't know where it comes from," she said. "That stuff just pops in my head."

It comes from hours spent with her father and her siblings.

Johnny Mathies recalls putting basketballs in the hands of A'dia and her sister when they were in early elementary school. The girls always wanted to go to the park and practice shooting.

But their dad, a former point guard, wanted them to learn the fundamentals first. So they'd do dribbling and passing drills for hours before he'd let them shoot.

As a family, they spent a lot of time watching and talking about basketball.

It was part of life.

"I always liked watching basketball, I didn't study it or anything," A'dia Mathies said. "I guess I just have that eye for it. I notice stuff on the court."

That ability is getting her noticed off the court as well.

Antonelli, the women's basketball analyst for several major networks, said the junior has to be in the early discussions for SEC Player of the Year.

"She's multidimensional," Antonelli said. "She leads her team in rebounding, as a guard. She leads them in steals. She's one of the top defenders in the league. ... I definitely think she should be in the conversation."

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