Mark Story

Mark Story: Mathies' career night adds to Memorial Coliseum lore

Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen (40) left, fouled Kentucky's A'dia Mathies (1) as she drove toward the basekt in the second half of the Tennessee at Kentucky women's basketball game at Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 12, 2012. Kentucky won 61-60. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen (40) left, fouled Kentucky's A'dia Mathies (1) as she drove toward the basekt in the second half of the Tennessee at Kentucky women's basketball game at Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 12, 2012. Kentucky won 61-60. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

Memorial Coliseum is the House that Rupp Built. It's where Hagan and Ramsey, Rupp's Runts, Issel, Casey and Pratt entered their names into Kentucky basketball lore.

And, chances are, it has never been home to a better performance than the one A'dia Mathies delivered for the University of Kentucky women Thursday night.

As a jam-packed Memorial Coliseum crowd of 7,961 stood in tension, with Tennessee clinging to its 36-game SEC winning streak by one point as the clock ticked under 10 seconds, Mathies drove hard from the top of the key down the right side of the lane.

The electric junior guard got a step, encountered 6-foot-3 UT post player Glory Johnson in the lane, ducked underneath her and flipped the ball toward the basket.

When it went through the hoop, it gave Mathies her career-high 33rd and 34th points and Kentucky the lead.

"I saw the open lane," Mathies said. "... I just took it one-on-one, I got past (the defender), then I saw a couple of trees so I just shot it and it went in."

After Tennessee's Kamiko Williams saw a rushed 14-footer missed at the final buzzer, Kentucky had a rare victory — its eighth in 56 tries all time — over the Southeastern Conference gold standard in women's basketball.

Say it loud, say it proud: Kentucky 61, Tennessee 60.

Even more impressive, UK dug down and pulled it out after the Lady Vols had unleashed an 18-4 run to turn a 52-41 Kentucky lead with 7:01 left into a 59-56 Tennessee advantage with 2:07 to play.

"Tennessee played such a tough game," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "That's why I'm so proud of our players. They earned every bit of this."

Mostly, it was the 5-9 Mathies, Kentucky's 2009 Miss Basketball, who made Memorial magic.

She certainly had reason to feel like she owed UT one. In her first two largely stellar seasons at UK, Mathies had made only 15 of 48 shots in four games.

Thursday night, in a rugged first half in which both teams defended so furiously that it seemed no one could score, Mathies hit six of 11 shots. The rest of the Kentucky team went 3-for-20.

Yet, amazingly, Kentucky led 25-21 at halftime.

Perhaps some of the ragged first-half offense owed to the ample emotion that preceded the game.

For Tennessee, there is nothing normal about this basketball season. The iconic Lady Vols Coach, Pat Summitt, shocked the world last summer when she announced that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

Thursday night, when Summitt walked on the Memorial Coliseum court for what may have been the final time before a game, the UK crowd gave the coach who has done for women's basketball in the South what Adolph Rupp did for the men's game — make it matter — a standing ovation.

"I really appreciated our fans tonight," Mitchell said. "They did exactly what first-class people should have done and gave (Summitt) a standing ovation. That really meant a lot to me."

When Mitchell came onto the floor just after Summitt, the former Tennessee graduate assistant followed his old boss down toward the Tennessee bench. The two hugged.

"I told her I loved her," Mitchell said. "I told her, obviously, I'm thinking about her and what she's going through."

By the second half, emotions had settled and both teams finally made some shots.

What didn't change was that Mathies was still brilliant.

The roof almost came off Memorial when, with the shot clock ticking perilously close to zero, she arched a three-pointer over 6-4 UT center Vicki Baugh.

Amazingly, the trey ripped the net and Baugh was called for a foul.

After Mathies drained the free throw, UK was up 48-37.

Once Tennessee's rally seemed on the verge of wresting victory from UK's clutches, it was Mathies to the rescue.

She followed in her own miss with 46.1 seconds left to cut the UT lead to 60-59.

After a UT charge gave Kentucky the ball back with 24 seconds to go, Kentucky called a timeout with 12 seconds left and put the ball in the hands of Mathies.

"She'd brought us so far," Mitchell said, "I thought we'd just put it in her hands and see if she could finish it."

Which Mathies did.

"A great player making a great play," Tennessee Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.

Kentucky's victory doesn't mean the Cats program has caught or passed Tennessee. It does show that Mitchell is building a program capable of threatening the Lady Vols.

For one night, The House that Rupp Built became the Crib that Mathies thrilled.

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