They don't give you the mantle of champions. You have to take it.
Behind the brilliant all-around play of A'dia Mathies and a clutch performance from true freshman Bria Goss, Kentucky zealously fought to keep its SEC championship hopes viable Thursday night.
Driving the ball relentlessly to the rim and dominating the rebounding, South Carolina kept trying to take it away.
Following 40 minutes of as intense basketball as has ever been played in venerable Memorial Coliseum, the verdict was rendered:
Kentucky 53, South Carolina 50.
When combined with Tennessee's surprising overtime loss to Arkansas, it means UK will finish with no less than a share of the SEC regular-season title for the first time since the league starting recognizing a regular-season champ in 1983.
"Awful proud of our kids," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "South Carolina attacked us in every one of our weaknesses. Our kids refused to back down. They earned this."
Senior Night for guards Amber Smith, Keyla Snowden and Crystal Riley was far more slugfest than a celebration.
Kentucky's halfcourt offense has slipped a gear late in the season. South Carolina came to Lexington allowing an SEC-least 49.9 points a game.
On this night, points were almost as rare as a Duke fan in Lexington.
Mathies (21 points, six rebounds, two steals) got Kentucky started offensively by scoring nine of Kentucky's first 13 points.
"I was just being more aggressive," the Louisville product said. "I made a couple of baskets early and tried to feed off that."
Even with a field-goal drought of almost seven minutes in half one, UK led 23-21 at the half.
In half two, the Cats led most of the way, but they couldn't break free of Dawn Staley's gutty Gamecocks.
Goss (14 points) put the Cats up seven, 44-37, with a conventional three-point play with 7:19 left.
Mathies scored three straight field goals for UK to keep the Cats ahead seven, 50-43, with 2:53 left.
But they don't give you the mantle of champions. You have to take it.
Needing only to execute offensively down the stretch to close out South Carolina, Kentucky turned the ball over on two straight possessions, then settled for a rushed Snowden three-point attempt (that missed) as the shot-clock ticked down.
South Carolina pulled within two inside the game's final minute and, briefly, appeared to have the ball back down a bucket with only 9.4 seconds left.
But after a long review by the referees, it was ruled that a Samarie Walker put-back attempt had grazed the rim, turning what had been a shot-clock violation against UK into an inadvertent whistle and a held ball.
The possession arrow favored UK. The Cats hit three free throws (one by Goss, two by Maegan Conwright after Mathies tipped out a Goss miss) to survive.
Some 20 minutes after Kentucky's escape, word came from Knoxville that the Lady Vols had fallen, meaning Kentucky had the right to call itself, at worst, SEC co-champions.
Yet in their post-game news conference, Goss, Mathies and Snowden did not seem giddy.
"That's because we don't want to stop here," Goss said. "We still have other goals to fulfill."
Now, Kentucky will go for the school's first outright SEC regular-season title ever (and UK's first conference crown of any kind since the 1982 Cats won the SEC Tournament at a time when the league did not have a regular-season round robin).
All that stands between Mitchell and his team from being undisputed league champions is Sunday's contest at Mississippi State.
The UK coach is a 1995 Mississippi State graduate.
MSU is led by former Kentucky head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis, who won 134 games (with 97 losses) coaching the Cats from 1987-95 before being fired after a 14-14 season in 1994-95. Earlier this week, Fanning-Otis announced that she was retiring as MSU head coach after this season.
You think Mitchell won't relish clinching an SEC Championship in his home state?
Or that Fanning-Otis would not love to deny the school that once fired her an SEC title in her final regular-season game?
Said Mitchell: "Mississippi State isn't going to give it to us. But I told our kids in the locker room, we've worked too hard and come too far not to go down there and give every bit of effort."
To earn the mantle undisputed SEC champions.