Yes, I know, some of you probably think I should be serving this article with a side of crow for myself, considering my lambasting of A'Dia Mathies and her play early in the season. Nope, not gonna happen.
What is happening is that A'Dia Mathies is being rewarded for being A'Dia Mathies. She was tough, smart, and played through her struggles early to lead her team back to within one game of a second consecutive SEC championship. She played like a leader should to put her teammates in a position to win, even though it came at a price for her early.
Back in the early part of January I wrote about A'Dia disappearing during games for long stretches. She would score a few points, and not be heard from again for the rest of the night. She even fouled out once. Conventional wisdom says you cannot lead your team from the bench, but on that point I was dead wrong. A'Dia knew that she could score when she wanted to, she could pad her stats and make herself look great to the writers and awards groups out there, and she would be raising her draft stock the entire time. And her team would have failed.
See, this version of the UK Hoops Squad had a lot of fresh faces. Not inexperienced faces, mind you, yet still new. There were transfers in DeNesha Stallworth, Samarie Walker, and Jelleah Sydney. There was a new point guard who was nothing more than a backup and extra body for last year's team in Jennifer O'Neill. Last but not least were the former starters who had to take a seat to allow the uber-talented squad to find it's balance in Brittany Henderson, Bria Goss, and Kastine Evans. On top of it all was a hotshot freshman guard who not only could handle the ball, she could shoot it lights out when she got hot in Janee Thompson, who came to Kentucky knowing she would not start when there were a host of schools ready to hand her the ball.
Add in the fact that many of these players are McDonalds High School All-Americans, and maybe you start to see the picture. There was actually too much talent on the floor. That kind of talent can overwhelm a lot of teams with no direction at all. Mathies was not needed. They could win without her. They did win without her. With the exception of the Baylor game and Brittany "Supergirl" Griner, Kentucky mopped up the floor with everyone they faced all the way up to South Carolina on January 24th. All the while A'Dia kept picking and choosing her places to shine while also involving all of her teammates in the games. Matthew Mitchell's Forty Minutes game is not easy to play. It looks like chaos, but it takes patience. You have to know who to attack and when. You have to know when to run and when to choke teams off before they even reach the half-court line. That's where Mathies made her name this season.
Mathies became the leader that UK needed. She scored when they needed it. She handed the ball off when they needed it. She even sat down when they needed it. Most importantly, all year long she played the toughest defensive game in women's basketball.
UK came up short on the wins by one this season, which was not A'Dia's fault... well, not entirely. Ask her and she will take the blame. Whenever anything was not exactly right, Mathies was there to explain where the mistake was made and offer up apologies and assurances that it would not happen again. She was right there as well, as Kentucky lost four games, but none of them could be attributed to repeat mistakes. Each one had it's own little glitch. She remembers them all.
Normally I avoid stats like the plague, but in this case, they bear being quoted. Mathies:
- Played 29 games and scored 464 points, for a team best 16.0 average.
- She attempted 407 shots, made 165. She was 60 for 149 from 3 pt range 40.03%
- She made 74 FT's, another team best. She was second in steals, fourth in blocked shots, third in both Offensive and Defensive Rebounds.
- She was 5th in the SEC in scoring, 10th in FG%, 7th in FT%, and 15th in steals, and second in 3pt %, and she did all that without being in the top 10 in minutes played in the league.
Mathies shares the victory this year with Meighan Simmons of Tennessee, another incredibly talented player who kept her team together in much the same way A'Dia did Kentucky. It is no coincidence they are the leaders of the top 2 teams in the conference.
For the last two years in particular, and somewhat before that, I have watch A'Dia Mathies become a complete basketball player. She was always talented, well liked by the fans, and willing to work harder than anyone else to succeed.
For the second year in a row, she is being rewarded for it, at least as much of an individual reward as she can get at this level, short of that elusive NCAA Championship. She plays top flight basketball every time she laces up those shoes. She does it with grace, skill, determination and power. It is a beautiful thing to see. She has been here four years and it seems as though she only just arrived. That's how special A'Dia Mathies is. I feel kind of strange writing this, as she is not yet done with her career here at Kentucky. As a matter of fact, over the next 3-4 weeks, more people will see her play than have watched her all season long. Too bad they didn't get to see the her develop. They only get to see her shine.