NASHVILLE — This hasn't been the easiest senior season for Amber Smith.
The Kentucky guard has seen her playing time dwindle. She's had injuries that have kept her from performing the way she knows she can.
Sometimes her most important role has been cheerleader on the UK bench.
That's been frustrating, she admitted.
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A close friend and also a UK assistant coach recently gave Smith some important advice.
"They just told me to be ready when my name's called and play whatever role I'm asked to play and play it to the best of your ability," Smith said.
She didn't play a minute of the first half of the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal game between Kentucky and Florida on Friday.
She watched Kentucky struggle and trail by as many as 13 points in the second half.
Then Coach Matthew Mitchell called her name and she helped give the Cats the boost they needed to come back and win in Bridgestone Arena.
"She turned the game around," sophomore guard Kastine Evans said of Smith. "She came in and did exactly what she had to do."
The senior point guard only had two assists and a rebound, but she became a steadying influence on UK for the 17 minutes she was in the game.
"We needed somebody to come off with some energy," Mitchell said. "Amber had been struggling in that department in practice and in games.
"I was really proud she was able to rise to the occasion because we needed it badly. ... We just told her she needed to go in and make some plays. I thought she played probably her best game of the year."
Weathering the storm
There were a few terrifying minutes in Bridgestone Arena on Friday after a tornado warning was issued near halftime of the second game between Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Intermission was extended as the storm passed overhead and pounded the roof with hail and dangerous winds.
Fans were encouraged to stay in their seats during the weather event and the two pep bands did their part, taking turns playing as the storm raged outside.
Kentucky's players and coaches rode out the storm in the basement of the Marriott near Vanderbilt's campus.
'That thing was really heavy'
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell warned his team that the championship trophy was quite cumbersome.
He told his three seniors when they went to claim the hardware that marked their first regular-season championship in 30 years, that it would take more than one of them to carry it.
He wasn't kidding.
"He said the strongest person needed to get in the middle," Smith said. "But it didn't work out that way. It was Crystal (Riley) in the middle and me and Keyla (Snowden) on the sides. Clearly, I'm the strongest.
"That thing was really heavy."
The players also got a chuckle before SEC Commissioner Mike Slive handed over the hardware.
"We were laughing because the commissioner is so small and he was talking about how heavy the trophy is," Evans said. "It was just a real fun time."
And it meant a lot to the players.
"It just shows how far this program has come and to do something that hasn't been done in 30 years was great," Snowden said.