In the grand scheme of things, this game wasn't supposed to mean much.
Tennessee already had clinched the Southeastern Conference title a few days before.
But Matthew Mitchell wasn't concerned about No. 10 Kentucky lacking motivation against the eighth-ranked Lady Vols. Not one bit.
"I made it very, very plain that nothing was acceptable today but victory for those two kids," the UK coach said of A'dia Mathies and Brittany Henderson on their Senior Day. "Nobody wanted to be around me today if we'd lost.
"I wasn't in the mood for anything but a victory today."
And a victory is what Kentucky gave its coach and its seniors at Memorial Coliseum. The Cats never trailed and led by as many as 19 points to top Tennessee 78-65 on Sunday.
The victory, which ended the Lady Vols' six-game win streak, made Mitchell the program's all-time wins leader with 139. It also made UK the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, which starts Wednesday in Duluth, Ga.
"We went out there and wanted to win with a purpose," said Mathies, who had 16 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocked shots to add to her UK lore. "We came out with great energy and effort. We just decided to get a win in Memorial Coliseum for the last time."
The Cats' energy and effort resulted in a season-high 31 turnovers for Tennessee. In contrast, the Lady Vols scored just nine points off 12 Cats miscues.
"Their team defense really kind of got everybody sick a little bit," said guard Meighan Simmons, who had 17 points and seven rebounds but also six turnovers. "Like I said, (if) we come in patient and come in poised, everything comes a little bit easier for us."
But against UK's pressure, nothing came easily for the Lady Vols (23-6, 14-2).
Mitchell's pre-game pep talk made sure of that.
UK opened the game with gusto, making its first four three-point attempts (two apiece for Bria Goss and Jennifer O'Neill) to grab an 18-8 lead in the first seven minutes.
O'Neill had 16 points, six rebounds and three assists. Goss finished with 12 points off the bench for the Cats.
But after that early surge, UK managed to make just one bucket over the next six minutes while Tennessee was able to regroup.
Trailing 30-17 with 5:27 left in the first half, the Lady Vols went on a 13-2 run. Bashaara Graves' shot in the lane in the final minute pulled Tennessee within two. Graves, who picked up two fouls just a couple minutes into the game, had 10 points at the break.
That's when things got a little strange. With a few ticks of the clock left before the half, Samarie Walker drove the lane and dished to Azia Bishop, who hit a layup as time expired to give UK a 36-32 edge.
But a blocking foul was called on Graves, who tried to stop Walker's drive. After reviewing the play, the officials counted Bishop's basket and sent Walker to the free-throw line for a one-and-one, which she missed.
Despite 19 first-half turnovers and having its shot total doubled (44 attempts for UK to 22 for Tennessee), UT managed to stay in the game.
Mitchell and his team were undaunted by their shrinking lead.
"I thought really we were dominating the game in the first half and I thought Tennessee was very, very fortunate for the margin to be four at halftime," Mitchell said.
At the break, Mitchell reminded his team what it was playing for: Mathies and Henderson.
Kentucky (25-4, 13-3) reasserted itself by scoring nine unanswered points to open the half. Walker started it by stealing the inbounds pass and taking it in for two of her 10 points. She had three rebounds and a career-high-tying five steals.
That 9-0 run ballooned into a 21-6 spurt that helped UK grab its largest lead of the game, 57-38, with 12:06 to play.
"They played with tremendous intensity and passion today and when we do that, we're a pretty good basketball team," Mitchell said.
DeNesha Stallworth added 12 points and eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end. UK had 19 offensive boards in all, a stat that frustrated Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick.
"We just got outworked today and outhustled," she said. "We didn't get the job done, so credit to Kentucky and how hard they played and what they did to us."
Graves scored 12 points for the Lady Vols. Cierra Burdick added 11 points and 11 rebounds, but also had seven turnovers.
"Honestly, I think we just underestimated (them)," Simmons said. "We didn't come ready to play."
But Kentucky did. It still had something (or two someones) to play for.
SEC Tournament: Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt/Missouri winner
When: 6 p.m. Friday TV: FS South
Where: Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Ga.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com