Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.
When Kentucky lost its best player in a February 12 loss to Florida, the following contest at Tennessee on Saturday wasn’t pretty. The young Wildcats reached a fork in the road after that 30-point embarrassment — give up or keep fighting. But to keep fighting UK needed veteran leadership, a factor it had desperately and unsuccessfully sought throughout the entire season. In freshman center Nerlens Noel’s absence, a new leader has emerged. Senior Julius Mays stepped up and provided that leadership at just the right time, the point at which the Wildcats needed it most.
The Wildcats faced a must-win situation on Saturday, and coach John Calipari turned to a player he could rely on. Mays played 44 of an available 45 minutes in an overtime win against Missouri Saturday night, and Calipari and Big Blue Nation were not disappointed. Thirteen of his season high 24 points came in the final 3:37 of regulation and the extra period. “Julius was terrific, the shots he made and the leadership,” Calipari said. The transfer student has quietly developed consistency as the season progressed — in UK’s last seven games, he hasn’t had an offensive rating below 100.0 and he’s scored in double figures in six of those games. He is without question hitting his stride at just the right time.