Julius Mays, Jabari Brown

Well-traveled Julius Mays stars as Kentucky downs Mizzou in OT


One look at the stat sheet will tell you exactly what this Wildcat team can be.

Four players in double figures. Willie Cauley-Stein with 12 hard-fought boards and seven blocked shots on defense. Sixteen points, eight rebounds and six assists from the oft-doubted Ryan Harrow. A smoking 50.8 percent from the floor, bolstered by 41.2 percent from deep. They beat a good Missouri team 90-83 to move into a tie with Alabama for second place in the SEC.

But, and there’s always a “but”, it took an overtime period to get it done, at home. And the Wildcats were bedeviled yet again by poor free throw shooting, hitting just 63.9 percent in the game. Prior to overtime, that number was closer to 53 percent.

It’s so obvious that the weaknesses in Kentucky’s execution are mental mistakes made by young players. If last year was the upside of recruiting young for the Wildcats, this year has been the downside.

And yet, without a doubt, this team is still in the hunt. Callow Kentucky teams of recent vintage have always had a veteran presence to rally around when things get tough, and this year is no different. The brightest spot for Kentucky tonight was reserved for fifth-year senior Julius Mays, who scored 24 points – his highest in a Wildcat uniform – and cobbled together a very efficient night’s work. He even hit eight of his nine free throws.

Mays has been well-traveled in college hoops, playing his first two seasons at NC State, then spending a year at Wright State, finishing his degree, and moving on to Kentucky for his final season. Experienced transfers had a major impact for both teams, in fact.

Mays can score – he did it in bunches at Wright State, where he established his standing career high of 33 points. It’s nice to know he can do so when called upon. But his real value to this squad of uber-talented tyros is as a combination Yoda/Dumbledore/Tim Duncan figure – the wizened vet who can show toughness (Mays stayed in the game when leg cramps made it difficult for him to get up and down the court), cool-headedness (making those free throws) and guile (inducing fellow fifth-year Oriakhi to foul out) when needed.

Haters gonna hate, but the NCAA tournament would be poorer without Kentucky in it. If Mays can lead his young charges to a couple of road wins, and a decent run in the SEC tourney, we won’t have to find out what that would look like.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady ‘awake, alert’ after getting stretchered off court

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Wichita State big man Anton Grady was stretchered off of the floor in the second half of a loss to Alabama after a nasty collision with Dazon Ingram.

The video can be seen above. There was nothing malicious about the way that Grady was injured. When he turned to run up the floor after missing a shot in the lane, he went face first into Ingram’s shoulder. He neck bent in an awkward directions and, after stumbling a few steps, he laid motionless on the floor.

It took 10 minutes for the training staff to strap Grady to a backboard and wheel him out of the arena.

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A Wichita State spokesman told NBCSports.com that Grady was taken to a local trauma center for evaluation and that he is “awake, alert and is answering questions appropriately”.

We will have more updates as they come available.

From a basketball perspective, the No. 20 Shockers lost their second game in a row and are now 2-3 on the season.

While for some the Shockers’ résumé is up for questioning following losses to USC and Alabama, two teams projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues, the team’s health is the biggest concern.

Fred VanVleet has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season began, and an ankle injury limited him in a loss at Tulsa earlier this month. He won’t play again until at least Dec. 5th. and who knows when he’ll be back to full strength. The same can be said for back up point guard and freshman Landry Shamet, who underwent surgery to address a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Their injuries have led to even more being asked of senior guard Ron Baker, and the loss of Grady for any significant amount of time certainly isn’t going to help matters..

These early-season losses won’t help Wichita State when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but it’s important to make note of the circumstances surrounding those defeats. To be shorthanded, with one of the absent players ranking among the nation’s best point guards, has an impact that has to be accounted for when evaluating Wichita State. The Shockers will add Conner Frankamp in mid-December, which will help them on the perimeter.

But with their rotation currently being in flux, it’s tough to make any definitive statements on what Wichita State will have to do in order to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. At this point Gregg Marshall and his staff will look for other contributors, one of whom being Markis McDuffie (14 points, seven rebounds vs. Alabama), to emerge and show themselves capable of picking up the slack.