DULUTH, Ga. — Scissors dangled from a poster in the Kentucky locker room screaming the words: "Cutting the nets down."
But the scissors stayed on the wall, a cutting reminder of what the seventh-ranked Cats were unable to do on Sunday night.
"We just gave away an opportunity," sophomore guard Bria Goss said quietly after Kentucky's 75-67 loss to No. 19 Texas A&M in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
As Kentucky's players sat quietly in their locker room, staring at the walls with swollen, red eyes, the Aggies were on the Gwinnett Center floor cutting down those coveted nets.
"We're happy," Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair said after his team won the conference tournament in its first season in the league. "We're still dancing."
The Aggies didn't exactly form a conga line entering the SEC Tournament. They were losers in four of their final five games, including one at home to UK, which topped them twice in the regular season.
But before the tournament began, Blair told his team not to despair, not to fret.
"We've got to get that feel-good feeling again," he said. They found it during a monster 23-8 run early in the second half that put the game away.
UK was left with what is becoming an all-too-familiar feeling after losing in the title game for the third time in four years. Kentucky still hasn't managed to win a title since the school's lone trophy in 1982.
"We're just disappointed," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It's very disappointing to get this close and not be able to win."
The Aggies (24-9), a No. 4 seed in the tournament, lost twice in the regular season to Kentucky by a combined seven points.
They didn't let it happen again, scoring 11 straight points early in the second half to help put the game away. UK got within seven points with 1:38 to go on a free throw by senior A'dia Mathies, but couldn't get any closer.
Kentucky's offense struggled against the longer, bigger Aggies. The Cats made just four of their first 24 attempts in the second half, and it didn't get much better from there. For the game, UK shot 35.5 percent, including 25 percent from three-point range.
During one stretch, UK went more than six minutes without a point.
"The game got out of our hands," junior Kastine Evans said. "The tempo was set by them in the second half. It wasn't what you'd describe as Kentucky basketball, especially on the offensive end. Toughness is part of our formula. They were beating us on a lot of hustle plays."
After sitting all but eight minutes of the first half in foul trouble, Aggies star Kelsey Bone became a difference-maker in the second half. The tournament Most Valuable Player scored 14 of her 18 points after the break and finished with 15 rebounds.
The foul trouble turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Bone said.
"I still had 20 minutes left in my tank,' she said. "It's a testament to my team and the depth that we have, that I can sit on the bench for eight minutes and we're only down by two points" at the half, 36-34.
"I felt like we had taken their best shot and we had not thrown our best punch yet. I felt like we were ready."
Bone was one of four Aggies to score in double figures. Kristi Bellock had 15 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Courtney Walker had 14 points and seven boards, and freshman Courtney Williams scored 11 points.
Blair was especially pleased with his post play.
"We shot 47 percent tonight," he said. "How did we do that? We shot 16 out of 25 from the paint. We held their two post players, basically, to 1-for-5 and 4-for-12. That was the difference in the ballgame. We knew we had to win it on the inside because their perimeter defense is so good."
Mathies led the Cats (27-5) with 19 points and seven rebounds. Guard Jennifer O'Neill added 17 points and four assists. But when UK needed points, it struggled to find a way to get them.
"I should have done a better job at this point in the season of being better able to manufacture some offense," Mitchell said. "We thought we had some chances, and we just couldn't capitalize."
Kentucky will have a week to regroup before it finds out its NCAA Tournament destination on Selection Monday, March 18.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com