NASHVILLE — Kentucky played Tennessee as close as any Southeastern Conference team in the regular season.
In Lexington on Feb. 7, the Cats got within six points of keeping the fourth-ranked Vols from being perfect in conference this season.
While it wasn't the result UK wanted, the close loss gives the players some confidence as they head into Sunday's SEC championship game.
"It really showed us a lot," sophomore A'dia Mathies said of the close loss. "I believe if we play with the same intensity and apply the same pressure that we did in this last game, then we should come out with a victory."
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Senior Victoria Dunlap believes that a tweak here and a hustle play there might have been the difference last time around.
"The loss we had in Lexington shows that we have to continue to fight through things," Dunlap said. "We just need to tighten things up and learn from mistakes."
Coach Matthew Mitchell said the team has one goal in mind: to win the tournament for the first time since 1982.
To do that, UK is going to have to play its up-tempo style, force turnovers and compete with the much bigger Vols on the boards to have a chance.
"They are a talented team, a team that poses you a lot of challenges," he said.
Another challenge could be the crowd noise. The last game was at a blue-tinted Memorial Coliseum. This week, the shade du jour has been orange.
But it doesn't change Mitchell's expectations going into the title bout.
"We need to have a different outcome this time," he said. "We need to win this game. I know it would mean a lot to those players back in the locker room to do that."
Mathies battles bad back
A'dia Mathies' back hasn't been right since she took a charge against Arkansas on Feb. 24. She's played through some pain recently, but the discomfort hit a crescendo after taking a charge against Vanderbilt Saturday.
"This game is the worst it's been," she said.
But Mathies and Mitchell don't believe the pain will keep her out of the title game on Sunday.
"We don't know anything that would prevent her from playing tomorrow," he said.
Mathies was checked out after the game and will have an X-ray to make sure there's no other damage.
Sophomore Brittany Henderson's career high for rebounds was 12 against Southern Miss earlier this season.
The forward was just one shy of that total after one half Saturday night when she got 11 boards in 16 minutes.
Early in the game, Henderson was coming out of nearly every scrum under the basket with ball in hand.
"That made me excited because that's where she needed to be," Mitchell said. "Eighteen boards in one game is unbelievable. ... She was tough and tenacious today."