DULUTH, Ga. -- A'dia Mathis said Kentucky wanted to make a statement in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Coach Matthew Mitchell said the statement was depth makes a difference in the postseason.Mathies had 16 points and five steals and No. 7 Kentucky kept its lead in double figures the last 25 minutes of its 76-65 win over Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament on Friday night.Kentucky had 10 players log 12 or more minutes. Mitchell used 12 players, with no starter on the court for more than 26 minutes."We wanted to use the energy of the second five to be fresh and almost like they were starting the game," Mitchell said. "We talked about that before the game. We feel like we have quality depth, and in this setting, I think it can be very, very useful."The depth helped Kentucky maintain its self-proclaimed "40 minutes of dread" defense. The Wildcats had 14 steals. They blocked eight shots and forced 23 turnovers."I think it was a great game tonight," Mathies said. "We just wanted to come out and make a statement. We want to come out and play hard every game and we're going to fight for the championship."We subbed every four minutes with fresh legs. When you have two people running down the floor on one person, it's going to take its toll. We were making big stops on defense."The last point Vanderbilt trailed by single digits was at 26-17. Kentucky's biggest lead was 22 points early in the second half.Kentucky (26-4) had an impressive start to its postseason after setting a school record with 13 SEC regular-season wins. The Wildcats closed the regular season with a home win over Tennessee to clinch the No. 2 seed in the tournament.Kentucky advanced to its fifth semifinal in the last eight years. Its only tournament championship came in 1982.DeNesh Stallworth had 14 points in only 21 minutes for Kentucky.Tiffany Clarke, playing in her hometown, had 24 points and 12 rebounds for Vanderbilt (20-11). Jasmine Lister had 17 points.Clarke said Kentucky forced the Commodores to play at the Wildcats' pace."When they stepped up their intensity, I think we lost sight of what we do," Clarke said. "We started playing Kentucky basketball and getting away from what we do."Vanderbilt made only 9 of 19 free throws.Vanderbilt's only lead came on the first basket of the game. An inside basket by Stallworth started a 9-0 Kentucky run that also a fast-break layup by Mathies, followed by a Mathies steal and basket.The opening run set the pace for Kentucky."Kentucky's defense to start the game was just really good, really aggressive, really physical and created a lot of offense from their defense," said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb. "They attacked us right away and put us on our heels. We were pretty much just fighting back the rest of the game."The Wildcats lead the nation with their plus-8.9 turnover margin while leading the SEC with their averages of 12 steals and 5 blocked shots per game.Kentucky's steals totals rose quickly as the defense, led by Mathies, was sometimes overwhelming. Mathies had five of the Wildcats' 10 first-half steals, leading to 15 turnovers for the Commodores in the first 20 minutes.The Wildcats led 38-23 at halftime and stretched the lead to 52-30 with an 11-0 run early in the second half.