COLLEGE STATION, Texas – How about Papaw on Saturday?
JULIUS MAYS (TCP/Darrell Bird)
With Kentucky in the battle of its life at Texas A&M on Saturday, fifth-year senior Julius Mays rose above a galaxy of five-star players to push the Cats to a 72-68 overtime victory.
“Without him, we don’t win today,” UK coach John Calipari said without hesitation.
Mays was brilliant on two fronts.
After scoring in double figures just once in seven SEC games, Mays exploded for a UK-career best 19 points, including 4-of-6 from three-point range and 5-of-6 free throws made in overtime.
On the defensive end, Mays drew the assignment to stop Texas A&M’s Elston Turner, who torched the Cats for 40 points in the Aggies’ victory at Rupp Arena on Jan. 12. Turner did score 21 points, but was 7-of-23 shooting. More impressive, Mays chased Turner for 41 minutes.
"My teammates have been patient, my coaches have been patient,” Mays said. “But I’ve come around and finally found myself."
Despite being a grad student, Mays didn’t assert himself as the leader of a bunch of freshmen when he arrived from Wright State.
“I was more aggressive today,” Mays said. “I’ve been passive, but if I’m more aggressive it helps me and my team.”
Five-star freshmen come with a lot of expectations and pressure. But the transfer to Kentucky was no piece of cake for Mays, either.
“It’s definitely been difficult,” Mays admitted. “I came from a situation where the ball was in my hands 30 minutes a game last year to being more of a spot up shooter here and not having to create my own shot. It’s been different. It takes time. I’m coming around.”
Mays scored eight of his 19 points in the first half as UK built a 30-21 advantage. He was UK’s secret weapon, according to Turner.
“He hurt us,” Turner said. “We started out wanting to keep the ball out of the post. But that’s what got him going. By the second half, he was already feeling it.”
Mays scored another 11 points after intermission, including a three-point dagger just as the shot clock was about to expire. It was one of many times UK managed to keep A&M from grabbing its first lead of the game.
“It was a broken play, definitely not what we wanted to run,” Mays confessed. “But when it came down, I got a really good look at it and it felt good leaving my hand. I felt like it was going in.”
Texas A&M had no choice but to opt to stop UK on the outside or inside.
“We left the post players one-on-one with Noel and Wiltjer, but that’s a tough guard,” Turner said. “But you have to take something away. You have to pick and choose.”
A&M picked its poison and it proved lethal.
“Julius gives us a guy that’s a veteran guy even though he’s not been in this league as a veteran,” Calipari said. “He’s got a great attitude. He talks to the guys, giving them that kind of leadership.”