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Kentucky's Mathies repeats as SEC player of year

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ATLANTA (AP)

The Southeastern Conference women's player of the year has found a home in the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky guard A'dia Mathies was selected as the SEC's top player by The Associated Press for the second year in a row Tuesday - and ensured the Wildcats held on to the award for the fourth straight season.

Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap won in 2010 and 2011 before Mathies went back-to-back.

Tennessee claimed the other two awards announced by the AP. Holly Warlick, who took over for the ailing Pat Summitt, was a unanimous choice as coach of the year. Freshman center Bashaara Graves was picked as newcomer of the year on every ballot.

''To win the player of the year four straight seasons means a lot to our program,'' Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ''It's a tribute to our players and how hard they've worked.''

Graves, a 5-foot-9 senior, also repeated as a unanimous first-team choice. She was joined on the elite five by Texas A&M center Kelsey Bone, Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons, LSU forward Theresa Plaisance, and Vanderbilt forward Tiffany Clarke.

''A'dia Mathies is the smartest basketball player I've ever been around and that I've ever had the chance to coach.'' Mitchell said. ''I certainly haven't been around anybody that's been more meaningful to a program than she has been here at Kentucky.''

Mathies was the SEC's fifth-leading scorer (15.9 points per game) and ranked second in 3-point percentage (.408), leading the NCAA-bound Wildcats (27-5) to a runner-up finish behind conference champion Tennessee.

In basketball-crazy Kentucky, the women's program has carved out its own niche thanks to players such as Mathies.

''She's really helped us get to a different spot than where we were when she entered the program,'' Mitchell said. ''I hope we have a lot more games to watch her play in a Kentucky uniform but when it's all over, she will absolutely go down as one of the greats to ever play here.''

Warlick stepped into some mighty big shoes at Tennessee. She replaced the winningest coach in college basketball history after Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

The Lady Vols (24-7) didn't miss a beat, romping to another SEC championship and heading into their 32nd straight NCAA tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.

Warlick, a former Tennessee player and longtime Summitt assistant, still leans on her former boss, who remained part of the program as the coach emeritus.

''The whole season has been different, and at times, it's hard,'' Warlick said. ''Other times, it's OK. But I still have her there. She's still around these young ladies. She's still there in spirit and everything else, and she's still a vital part of this team.''

Warlick also was chosen as coach of the year by her SEC colleagues.

''Holly deserves all the credit,'' Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. ''She's got the hardest job in America. Remember how many people tried to replace John Wooden? They're still trying to replace him. You've got the right person in Holly. She's doing a great job, because Pat Summitt is our John Wooden.''

''I'm just doing what I've been taught to do,'' Warlick said. ''I just wanted to come in, put a stamp on this program and make sure we carried on the tradition.''

The transition was helped along by the arrival of Graves, a 6-foot-2 force in the frontcourt. The freshman averaged 13.8 points (ninth in the SEC) and ranked sixth in rebounding (8.3 per game).

''I would like to still consider myself a freshman, but everybody else (does) not,'' Graves said. ''The coaches tell me all the time, `Bashaara, you're not a freshman, so you don't have time to play like a freshman. You can't be out there like a freshman.' I'm not (a freshman) in everybody else's eyes.''

Warlick knew right from the beginning that Graves would play a major role in the post-Summitt era.

''Bashaara showed up ready to work from day one,'' the coach said. ''She has battled inside for us all year and put in a lot of minutes against some very talented players in this league and around the country. You certainly don't find that kind of consistent production from a freshman very often, and it became obvious fairly quickly that she was going to be one of those players for us.''

Bone led SEC newcomer Texas A&M to a tournament championship in its very first year, scoring 18 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in the title game against Kentucky. She finished as the league's third-leading scorer (16.9), trailing only Simmons (17.5) and Plaisance (17.4). The other member of the first team, Vandy's Clarke, was fourth in scoring (16.7).

Bone also was the conference's second-leading rebounder (9.6).

Graves made the second team, along with Georgia forward Jasmine Hassell, Kentucky center DaNesha Stallworth, South Carolina guard Ieasia Walker, and Auburn guard Hasina Muhammad.

The 17th annual AP All-SEC women's squad was selected by a regional media panel.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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