It has long been apparent that Jennifer O'Neill and Matthew Mitchell have had a unique player-coach dynamic.
After all, how many major college athletes have spent years referring to their head coach in public by his first name.
O'Neill, Kentucky's fiery senior guard, has long referred to Mitchell as "Matthew."
For one, I have always wondered how she's pulled that off.
"I've been doing that since my freshman year," O'Neill said Friday, after No. 2 seed Kentucky began its bid for the first women's Final Four trip in school history by obliterating No. 15 Tennessee State 97-52 in the NCAA Tournament before 3,223 fans in Memorial Coliseum.
In her first year at UK, O'Neill said she noticed that if she needed to get Mitchell's attention during a heat-of-game battle, the coach would look quicker if she called out "Matthew" instead of "Coach."
"It's something I thought of just to get his attention quick in the game," she said, "and it just kind of stuck."
On Sunday, when Kentucky faces No. 7 seed Dayton (26-6) at 2:30 p.m. in Memorial in the NCAA tourney second round, what will be of foremost importance is the Cats seeking to earn their fourth straight trip to the sweet 16 and fifth in six years.
But, win or lose, it will also be the final time the unique O'Neill-Mitchell collaboration will play in Lexington.
And that is worth noting.
O'Neill will always hold a special place in Kentucky women's basketball lore. When Mitchell and his former assistant, Matt Insell, won a recruiting battle with California to sign the little 5-foot-6 guard from the Bronx, New York, it gave UK Hoops the first McDonald's All-American it had ever signed.
Counting transfers, there have been eight more since.
Once O'Neill got to Lexington, her road to becoming a standout player was, likely, more complicated than either she or Mitchell anticipated.
Early in her freshman season (2010-11), her defense was so, well, bad, Mitchell would barely put her in games.
Then there were the off-the-court adjustments.
Said Mitchell: "It started with a really young kid coming in here who, I think, kind of knew what she wanted to do basketball-wise, but I don't know if she thought a lot about what kind of person she wanted to be."
Over the years, Mitchell challenged O'Neill to get in better shape so she could stay on the court and defend in the full-court pressing manner that UK prefers.
He also cajoled her to better handle adversity, to not allow a bad thing in a game to become an avalanche of negativity. For O'Neill, who is capable of great shooting streaks both good and bad, that has been a continuous quest.
This season, Mitchell also asked O'Neill, a natural introvert, to push out of her shell as a fifth-year senior and take on more of a role of verbal leadership.
"She was real quiet, just did what she had to do," Kentucky senior guard Bria Goss said of O'Neill. "Now that we've needed her to step up and out of that comfort zone, she's been up to the challenge."
The extent to which O'Neill accepted that role was on display in the second half Friday. After O'Neill scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-3 three-pointers), Mitchell gave her most of the second half off to rest the left ankle the guard rolled in practice Thursday.
Yet, from the bench, O'Neill was up directing the Kentucky offense, calling for the ball to reverse to the opposite corner to sparely used reserve Jaycee Coe. O'Neill wanted the freshman long-range shooting specialist to have a chance to shine.
"I like to make sure we get everybody involved," O'Neill said. "I love my teammates. (Coe) doesn't play much. So when she gets in, it's kind of special."
On Sunday, one of the more fun players to watch — and one of the more interesting players to coach — who has ever worn Kentucky blue and white will play in Lexington one last time.
"I'm really proud of Jennifer," Mitchell said. "Look, we may get into it tomorrow between now and Sunday's game. But we love each other. She's a real success story here at Kentucky in more ways than you can understand from just looking at it on the basketball court.
"I feel like we've had a great, great time together. That's why I'm so motivated to try to win the national championship. And we can't do that if we don't win Sunday."