LEXINGTON, Ky. — A’dia Mathies scored 13 second-half points, including back-to-back 3-pointers during Kentucky’s 19-6 run, to help the No. 10 Wildcats pull away from No. 8 Tennessee for a 78-65 women’s basketball victory Sunday.
Mathies, Kentucky’s No. 2 career scorer, finished with 16 points in her home finale at sold-out Memorial Coliseum. Jennifer O’Neill added four 3-pointers for 16 points for Kentucky (25-4, 13-3), which claimed the No. 2 seed for this week’s Southeastern Conference tournament.
Kentucky set the tone throughout but emerged from a 36-32 halftime lead with a big run set up by three steals and two rebounds by Samarie Walker (10 points). That put the Wildcats up 55-38 and they stayed safely ahead to make Matthew Mitchell the program’s winningest coach with 139 victories.
Regular-season champion Tennessee (23-6, 14-2) played without center Isabelle Harrison, who sustained a right knee injury Thursday. Point guard Ariel Massengale, who was also questionable with a knee injury, started and finished with five points.
Meighan Simmons led the Lady Vols with 17 points.
DeNesha Stallworth and Bria Goss each added 12 points for Kentucky, which was outrbebounded 43-37 but dominated the offensive boards 19-10 and forced 31 turnovers and recorded 15 steals.
Bashaara Graves had 12 points, Cierra Burdick added 11 with 11 rebounds and Taber Spani also had for Tennessee.
The Lady Vols took care of their most important matter by clinching the SEC on Thursday, but they were more concerned about the future of Harrison, who dressed but did not start. She had already missed six games this season with a left knee injury requiring surgery.
Injuries have been a issue for Tennessee, which lost freshman guard Andraya Carter for the season with a torn labrum on her right shoulder while Burdick missed eight games with a broken bone in her right hand.
Massengale’s presence offered some relief, though she didn’t seem like herself. For that matter neither did the Lady Vols, who committed 19 first-half turnovers alone and managed just 18 points in the paint.
The Lady Vols still trailed just 36-32 at the break by taking advantage of the Wildcats’ 31 percent inaccuracy, which might have doomed them if they hadn’t created twice as many opportunities (44 to 22) as Tennessee.
But after taking its largest lead at 30-17 on Azia Bishop’s layup with 5 1/2 minutes left in the half, Kentucky was outscored 19-6 behind 3-of-11 shooting. Bishop made two of those baskets in the final 25 seconds, including one as the horn sounded at the end of the half.
Officials confirmed it upon review and awarded Walker a 1-and-1 on Graves’ third foul away from the ball; she missed the free throw.
Kentucky came out of the break with nine straight points and the run to eventually stretch its lead to 57-38.
Mathies and Henderson were honored in a pregame ceremony in which Mitchell held his emotions in check as he bid farewell — at home, that is — to Kentucky’s winningest class. The two entered the game with a 108-25 record during which the Wildcats went from mediocrity to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and two Elite Eight berths.
Mitchell passed Terry Hall on Kentucky’s win list.