UK Women's Basketball

Mathies on everyone's radar after NCAA opener

LOUISVILLE — Freshman guard A'dia Mathies isn't going to sneak up on teams anymore.

Just a couple of weeks after being named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, the Louisville native scored a career-high 32 points in her first-ever NCAA Tournament game on Saturday at Freedom Hall.

Michigan State Coach Suzy Merchant said the Spartans will do their best to contain her.

"She's as good a guard as we've seen — if not the best we've seen — in terms of her abilities," Merchant said. "She plays with no fear."

The coach went even further.

"That's a big-time future WNBA superstar," Merchant said. "She's extremely talented. I don't think there's a weakness. ... She makes them when she needs them. She's got a scorer's mentality."

UK Coach Matthew Mitchell was asked if he was concerned that Mathies, playing in front of hundreds of friends and fans in Louisville, would feel pressured to duplicate her Saturday performance.

Mitchell said he worries about many things, but not Mathies.

"She just stays so steady," Mitchell said. "She cares greatly for her team and she wants us to win tomorrow. ... She'll be fine."

Calipari moving in?

Michigan State and Kentucky both have storied men's basketball programs, so there were several questions this week about whether the women's teams feel overshadowed.

Mitchell said no vigorously. He said the tradition of the men's program has made Kentucky a household name.

He also said it's fun to have John Calipari around, noting that maybe the men's coach is spending too much time in his office.

"I'm wondering if he's going to move in at some point because he's over there all the time," Mitchell joked.

He's great to have an office away, Mitchell said.

"He's so enthusiastic and positive and supportive," Mitchell said, noting that he was planning to call Calipari to congratulate him on his big win Saturday night but the men's coach beat him to it and called first.

'Work itself out'

Kentucky's players didn't want to admit it, but first tournament jitters probably got to them in the win over Liberty on Saturday.

Mitchell definitely noticed some nerves.

"I saw it just like everybody else did and you just have to believe and hope it will work itself out," he said.

He doesn't just hope, he said he knows it will.

"I believe we're going to play better," he said. "I believe it will work itself out. ... The kids that played tight know they did and I've just tried to talk to them as a team, not wanting to single anyone out."

Home-court advantage

In a game between a No. 4 seed (UK) and a No. 5 seed (Michigan State), coaches look for any advantage they can to win the game.

So Mitchell all but pleaded for Kentucky fans to come to Freedom Hall on Monday.

"I'd ask all Wildcat fans that can get here ... to get here because it can make a big difference," he said. "Maybe that could help us offset some of our experience and give us an extra boost of energy. Our team feeds off of energy."

MSU post player Allyssa DeHaan said the Spartans feed off something else.

"It's going to be a bit crazy with all of the Kentucky fans here," DeHaan said. "But we welcome that. We take pride in silencing the crowd. We've been there, done that."

UK will have a pep rally for the players at 5 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Louisville Airport, near the main gate to Freedom Hall. The band and cheerleaders will also be there.

A healthy respect

Michigan State Coach Suzy Merchant may seem familiar to some UK fans. She coached Eastern Michigan in its first-round WNIT loss to Kentucky in 2004-05.

Eastern Michigan lost in the first round at Memorial Coliseum, but Merchant appreciated UK's faithful. She hasn't forgotten the experience.

"They know the game, they know when to cheer; they know when to get behind that team and they can appreciate kids giving effort," she said. They're a "class act of people that really love the game."