LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell implored that leading scorer A'dia Mathies be more aggressive before Thursday's game against Arkansas.
Mathies listened, finishing with 21 points and six assists in the No. 11 Wildcats' 84-72 win against Arkansas in the second Southeastern Conference game this season for each team.
The Wildcats have struggled at times this season, getting off to slow starts, Mitchell said, so Mitchell said he challenged Mathies to not hold back Thursday.
"It's not a matter of whether she can shoot the ball too much," Mitchell said. "We need her to be aggressive, offensively. I didn't think she took any forced shots except at ends of shot clocks when she had to heave them up. Eighteen shot attempts with six assists is a pretty productive night."
Mathies started the game strong, scoring 14 points in the first eight minutes for the Wildcats (13-2, 2-0). Arkansas then found a way to shut her down, forcing her to miss her next eight shots over a 20-minute span.
The Razorbacks (11-3, 0-2) trailed by as many as 15 in the first half but used strong shooting to take their first lead, 46-44, with 16:18 left in the game on Dominique Robinson's 3-pointer.
The Arkansas trio of Ashley Daniels, Robinson and C'eira Ricketts took over in the second half, combining to score 33 of the team's 36 second-half points.
While Arkansas held a small lead for about five minutes, Mathies remained scoreless. When Mathies hit a 3-pointer with 10:16 left to give Kentucky a 60-56 lead, it was her first score in more than 20 minutes. The Wildcats regained the lead and created space once Mathies got going again. The junior finished 8 of 18 from the field and 5 of 9 on 3-pointers, and her shooting helped the Wildcats build the lead back up.
"I knew if I started being aggressive, then shots would open up for other people," she said. "I found them and they knocked them down. They did a good job of that. It was an all-around game, whether I was taking shots or finding them for other people. It was a team game."
One of the beneficiaries of Mathies' second-half aggression was freshman Azia Bishop. She only played 10 minutes, but finished with 11 points (all in the second half) and eight rebounds.
The 6-foot-3 forward scored five straight points, including just her second 3-pointer of the season, to give Kentucky a 67-58 lead with 8:01 to play.
"I don't know how many 3s she's made this year, but I don't think we had on our scouting report that she was a 3-point shooter," Arkansas coach Tom Collen said. "When she drained that, it sucked the life out of us. I don't think that was our kid's fault for not knowing she could shoot it."
Mathies averaged 8.3 field-goal attempts in the Wildcats' last four games, which included their two losses to Middle Tennessee State and No. 3 Notre Dame. Before Thursday's game, Mitchell said he gave her the green light to shoot as many times as she wanted.
"The (coaches) definitely stressed it all week," Mathies said. "They talked about it before the game, too. I knew I had to come out and be aggressive right from the start. I knew it would help my team if I was more aggressive, so that's what I did."