John Clay: Mays' senior leadership shines through

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 2, 2013 

  • South Carolina at Kentucky

    When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

    TV: ESPNU

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — At the end of the post-game news conference, Julius Mays rose slowly out of the folding chair in the small room inside Reed Arena, half a grin and half a grimace on his face.

Uncle Julius had put in a full day's work.

"Julius, without him, we don't win today," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said.

The first-year senior scored 19 points, burying four of six three-pointers, including a clutch triple that gave UK an eight-point lead in regulation.

Then, in overtime, the Indiana native stepped to the free-throw line and made five of six, including three of four in the final 15 seconds as the Cats held off Texas A&M 72-68.

And, oh yeah, he also handled defensive duties on A&M star Elston Turner, helping limit the Aggie to seven field goals on 23 attempts, including 1-for-7 from three-point land — a far cry from Turner's 40-point tour de force at Rupp Arena three weeks ago.

"Julius did a great job on Turner," Calipari said. "Because Archie (Goodwin), if Archie ever sees Turner again, leave. If it's a pickup game, go home. Don't go near the guy. Julius played him pretty good, and made it hard. He scored some baskets, but (Julius) made it hard."

But then after 21 games, maybe that's what the senior has become — the guy to make veteran plays on a young team. Never mind that the transfer from Wright State is in his first year in the Kentucky program. Never mind this is his first year in the SEC.

If freshmen are really sophomores this time of year, then maybe senior transfers are actually seniors in February.

"It's definitely been difficult," Mays said. "I came from a situation where the ball was in my hands 30 minutes a game. It's been different being a spot-up shooter. It takes time. I didn't shoot the ball well early in the season, but I've come around."

Yes, he has. In a four-game stretch before Tuesday's game at Ole Miss, Mays made 10 of 16 shots behind the line while committing just five turnovers. After missing four of five threes in Oxford, he relocated his aim here in the heart of Texas.

Mays made two of three threes in the first half as Kentucky took a 30-21 lead. He was 2-for-2 from three in the second half, including probably the biggest three of the game. At least for the winners.

With just under four minutes remaining, a Kentucky offensive possession broke down to the point where the shot clock was racing toward zero. The ball ended up in the hands of an open Mays, who drained the shot from behind the stripe just as the buzzer sounded.

"It was a broken play," Mays said. "Definitely wasn't what he was running. But, hey, it came down to it and there wasn't anybody around me. It felt good when I shot it."

And yet, from there, just when this team looks like it's getting it together, things started falling apart. Back came the Aggies, sending the game into overtime.

After turning it over six times over the final 2:07 to basically send the game into overtime, the Cats found a way to re-group in the extra pressure.

"It was over. It was behind us," Mays said. "It was definitely not the way we wanted to go out. We wanted to finish in better fashion."

Mays finished in terrific fashion. He made two free throws with 3:22 left in overtime to give UK a 66-63 lead. Then with 15 seconds left, and Kentucky taking the ball out of bounds, Mays got Elston Turner to foul him and go back to the line.

"He grabbed my arm," Turner said. "I didn't want to foul him, but he did a great job of selling it. It was a veteran play."

Mays stepped to the line and made two more free throws for a 71-68 lead. Then with one tick remaining, he made one of two foul shots for the final score.

"No pressure," Mays said. "I've been around college for a little while. I've been around situations like that."

On this day, in this game, Uncle Julius was just what Kentucky needed.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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