DULUTH, Ga. — Championship games between familiar foes are rarely friendly.
But Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell thought the Southeastern Conference championship game with Tennessee got a little too chippy, including a pair of double technicals in the second half that he thought altered the game.
"I was very disappointed in how that affected the game," Mitchell said. "It could have been stopped much earlier than it boiling over and affecting the game."
Mitchell and his UK players said the "activity" started before the game with trash talking from Lady Vols junior forward Cierra Burdick and continued throughout.
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"It's not the first time that's happened with that player," Mitchell said, noting that he mentioned it to the officials repeated times. "So you watch film. You see how players act. So I noticed it early on. It's a loud arena. It's a tough game. I guess they didn't see it."
The frustrations boiled over into double technicals for Samarie Walker and Burdick with 8:35 to go and UK up 51-50.
"She said something to one of my teammates; I said something back," Walker said. "That kind of made it worse."
The first issue turned into another round of double technicals for DeNesha Stallworth and Jasmine Jones.
"That's not what I wanted to see in the SEC championship game," Mitchell continued. "I'd rather see two teams play, not have a bunch of talking, yapping, unsportsmanlike conduct, but that's what it ended up being."
Burdick was asked about it after the Lady Vols' 71-70 win in The Arena at Gwinnett Center and she shrugged it off.
"I don't remember making contact with anybody," she said. "It's a physical game.
"Chippiness happens. It happens. This is basketball. It happens every single day. I think the refs did a fine job of avoiding any altercations. Nothing happened. Words were said, but words are words. No actions took place."
Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick said she didn't notice what Mitchell said he was seeing before and during the game.
"I just wanted us to compete," she said. "I thought that's what we were doing."
Waiting game begins
Kentucky doesn't learn its NCAA Tournament fate until March 17.
The Cats know where they will play — at Memorial Coliseum as a pre-determined first- and second-round host, but they don't know what seed they will earn.
Some stumbles early in the conference season and losses to unranked teams like Alabama and Florida coupled with four wins over top 10 opponents this season make the Cats' seeding tough to predict.
Mitchell said he heard one bracket analyst had UK as a four seed, which he pooh-poohed.
"I think that's a joke," he said. "I don't think we're a four. ... But I'll tell you this, I'm glad I'm coaching Kentucky going to the NCAA tournament. I don't know if anybody will be jumping for joy if they get the Wildcats in the first round."
Even the Tennessee coach scoffed at the idea of the SEC Tournament runner-up being a No. 4 seed. "That's crazy," Warlick said.
Regardless of seeding, (Sunday morning's ESPN Bracketology had UK as a No. 3 seed in the Louisville region with familiar top seed Connecticut and the Cardinals as the No. 2 seed), Mitchell likes how his team has come together down the stretch.
"I'm really excited about the NCAA Tournament," Mitchell said. "A lot of people thought we were dead in the water. We're not; we're here and we're ready to roll. I'm glad I'm coaching Kentucky."