BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — There were few tears in the Kentucky locker room after being throttled by Connecticut in the Bridgeport Regional championship game.
Players stared straight ahead. No words were spoken until television camera lights flooded the room.
Junior guard Kastine Evans said later that the shock wore off sometime in the second half when the Huskies went up by as many as 36 points.
She said UK's players, all but two of them returning for next season, realized there's more hard work to be done.
They are looking forward and not back.
"We have a core group of veterans coming back and some dynamic guards coming in," she said. "We are optimistic about the future."
There's reason for the optimism. Kentucky returns 77 percent of its offense, 83.3 percent of its rebounding, 80 percent of its steals and 80 percent of its assists.
It loses the program's second-leading scorer in A'dia Mathies and a veteran leader in Brittany Henderson, but it adds two McDonald's All-American guards in Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper, as well as forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, who was on the undefeated, Sweet Sixteen champion Marion County team this season with Epps.
Epps and Harper will bump the Cats' number of fast food All-Americans to seven on next season's roster.
Also returning will be guard Meagan Conwright, who sat out all but 10 games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
There is a lot to build on, Mathies said. A lot more than when she arrived on campus and Kentucky was merely a regular in the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
The senior said she's optimistic about the future she and Brittany Henderson helped start, helping the Cats win 111 games, including a 64-3 mark in four seasons at home. UK claimed a Southeastern Conference regular season title for the first time in 30 years and advanced to the SEC title game three of the past four years.
The guard said it was incredible to be part of such a turnaround.
"I'm glad I can leave here and look back and know that Kentucky is a national powerhouse now," she said. "We've got McDonald's All-Americans coming in left and right."
Mitchell said the loss stings but Kentucky's future is bright and that eventually the team will find a way to advance to the Final Four.
"We will see if we can get better from this big disappointment and get better for the future," he said.
Mathies' final chapter
There has been much written and said about Mathies' impact on the Kentucky program.
"She's definitely one of a kind," Jennifer O'Neill said of the guard, who ends her career ranked in the top 10 on 13 of UK's career list including tops in steals and games played.
"A'dia's irreplaceable," fellow guard Bria Goss said. "We're definitely going to miss her."
The two-time SEC Player of the Year wrapped up her UK career with 2,014 points, 670 rebounds, 320 steals and 349 assists.
Her 2,000-point mark puts her in an elite Kentucky group that only includes Valerie Still, Dan Issel, Jack "Goose" Givens and Kenny Walker.
"It looks a lot different when she's walking out the door than when she walked in the door," Mitchell said. "I hate that we performed the way we did tonight and send her out this way. We have to make sure that the contributions she made and the tremendous impact she made doesn't get lost in a real tough 40 minutes for us."
Three WNBA mock drafts have Mathies going late in the first round or early in the second round at picks between 10 and 16. The WNBA Draft is April 15 at Bristol, Conn.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com