Julius Mays, Jabari Brown

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

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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.

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.