LEXINGTON — Julius Mays shined in the spotlight and wasn't afraid of the bright lights.
Mays would have preferred a less-than-dramatic victory, but liked the way the Wildcats finished the contest after falling behind by double digits in the first half.
“It was a lot of fun,” Mays said. “Obviously we would have rather had won in regulation, but to come out with a win as hard as the guys fought and battled and not give up is big.”
In addition to his long-range shooting, Mays grabbed six rebounds, including five on the defensive end and helped the Wildcats overcome a poor effort on the glass during the first half. Despite getting outrebounded 27-18 in the first half, Kentucky held a 41-39 edge following the contest.
“With Nerlens (Noel) being gone, it's a lot of (rebounding) that we have to make up for obviously and Willie (Cauley-Stein) isn't going to block as many shots and the rebounding is going to be big,” Mays said.
“We’ve got to help out Willie and Alex (Poythress) and the guards have to make up for it in every game.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Mays' performance was “terrific” and was pleased with Mays' scoring effort, his best offensive output as a Wildcat, but also liked the way Mays filled the leadership role. As a testament of his leadership skills, Mays provided vocal support to point guard Ryan Harrow at various times in the contest, especially when Harrow “let a guy turn down a pick-and-roll” as Calipari recalled.
That's when Mays took over for Calipari.
“The more we coach ourselves, the better we are,” Mays said. “It brings ups together that much more. I knew (he was getting down on himself) and I just stopped him and told him that I (had him). At a key point in the game, I didn't want Ryan to get down on himself.”
Mays admitted that it takes time to develop into a senior leader, but stepped into the role to the delight of his coach against the Tigers.
“To hear him (Calipari) say stuff over and over again, I knew what he was going to say (to Harrow),” he said. “Me and him have a good relationship. (Calipari) wants us to hold each other accountable. He doesn't want to be the one out there (telling us what to do all the time). He wants us to get on each other amongst ourselves and be able to take the coaching from each other. I think tonight it showed and Ryan accepted it and played an amazing game.”
Trying to be a leader and a scorer, Mays threw up a heave at the buzzer without realizing teammate Archie Goodwin was open underneath the basket and that he had more time than what he imagined.
“I didn't even know how much time I had,” he said. “When the guy jumped in front of me, I didn't see the time on the clock. I just had to make sure I didn't turn it over. I seen Archie at the end. If I had thrown the pass with the defensive guy in front of me, I don't think he would have gotten it off.”
Mays said the team's second overtime victory of the season was “another stepping stone.”
“It obviously doesn't make or break a whole season, but we're just taking it one game at a time. We're not looking ahead or looking to pass anyone. We're just living in the moment.”