Kentucky senior Julius Mays is eager to open the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule.
The Wildcats’ quest for a second straight regular-season championship begins tonight in Nashville. Mays, making his first and only tour of duty in the league, is confident Kentucky will succeed against conference foes, starting with defending SEC champion Vanderbilt, a team that dealt the Cats one of their two losses last season. The Wildcats swept the Commodores during the regular season a year ago, including a 69-63 triumph at Memorial Gym, but lost to Vandy in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Superdome in New Orleans.
KFC Yum! Center. Mays added that the workouts during the holiday season proved to be beneficial for a team that has a tough act following the footsteps of last year’s national championship squad.
“I think we made another stride,” he said. “Guys are getting better, working harder and getting ready to start conference play. Individually both offense and defense, guys are playing harder. You don’t see guys quit on plays, you see guys go through the shot clock. We’re coming more together.”
In addition opening conference play, Mays also is looking forward into settling into a regular routine both on the court and in the classroom.
“It’s good for school to be back in and for us to start to play on a more consistent basis,” he said. “Instead of having to practice against each other and beat up on each other, we can do it on another team.”
It starts against Vanderbilt. Like all of the newcomers on Kentucky’s roster, Mays wasn’t a part of last year’s loss, but has an idea what to expect playing in front of a hostile environment in a contest that will be nationally televised at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
“I’ve never played there but I’ve watched it on TV and they play there a lot, I expect it to be a big crowd and it to be loud,” he said.
Kentucky, which has compiled an impressive 40-8 mark against conference foes during the regular season in Kentucky coach John Calipari’s first three seasons as coach, will face a tough act following last year’s team that ran the table against SEC¿opponents during the regular season and finished with a 16-0 record. Mays said it will take patience in order for the Cats to repeat last year’s feat and earn a third conference title in four seasons.
“We (have to) take it a game at a time,” he said. “We don’t want to look past anyone. Obviously our main focus right now is tomorrow and playing Vanderbilt. We’re not talking about winning the league. We just take it a game at a time.”
UK Basketball: Mays says Cats making strides, ready for SEC
Julius Mays and the Wildcats open SEC play Thursday night against Vandy in Nashville. Sun photo by Bill Thiry