LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A'dia Mathies and Brittany Henderson arrived at Kentucky four years ago hoping to lift the program from mediocrity into Southeastern Conference contention.
The Wildcats' duo enters Sunday's Senior Day with an upgraded plan — reaching the Final Four.
The next step toward that goal is beating No. 8 Tennessee (23-5, 14-1), which clinched the SEC regular season title and ended Kentucky's one-year championship reign. The No. 10 Wildcats (24-4, 12-3) have clinched a first-round bye for next week's conference tournament and want to secure the No. 2 seed.
Kentucky's duo will have a hand in that quest, just as they've done in building a 105-28 record with two Elite Eight appearances. As the Wildcats' winningest class, they've also put Matthew Mitchell on the brink of becoming Kentucky's most successful coach.
Those achievements please the soft-spoken Mathies more than her progress toward becoming one of Kentucky's all-time greats.
"I had no clue how it was going to turn out," said the 5-foot-9 guard, the school's No. 2 scorer with 1,883 points. "When we were being recruited, UK was a .500-level team. To come in here and automatically change it around the first year, we had no expectations. It just changed the whole culture and nature for UK.
"I just went out there head-first, it came out good and I'm glad it did."
If Mathies' friends and family had their way, the Louisville native would have been excelling with the hometown Cardinals. While they pushed hard for her to stay home and follow the footsteps of former All-American Angel McCoughtry — a 2012 Olympic gold medalist with Team USA and WNBA Atlanta Dream forward — Mathies was firmly committed to reversing Kentucky's fortunes.
Her record has proved she made the right decision.
"Angel McCoughtry would not have been there if I went to Louisville, so I never understood that," said Mathies, averaging 16.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. "I kind of wanted to be that person for this side, that person to change the program and make it an elite program. Even though I had no expectations, we ended up doing it and I am just glad I made that decision."
Henderson has been a reserve this season after starting 37 of 67 games the previous two years, but the 6-2 forward started Thursday night at Mississippi with DeNesha Stallworth suffering flu-like symptoms. She played 13 minutes and grabbed two rebounds during Kentucky's 90-65 victory, her latest contribution in a career of doing whatever the Wildcats need.
Like Mathies, the bottom line was about results more than personal achievements. And being part of a team considered a national championship contender has been more fulfilling than her 3.0 points-per-game scoring average.
"Coach talked about improving every year," Henderson said. "This year, he has talked a lot about having high standards. This team is great and we want to continue to be looked at as great in the future. We want to be seen as the UConn of the SEC and I feel like in the future we will be viewed as one of those programs."
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