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February 7, 2013Kentucky hit five threes against South Carolina Tuesday night, helping the Wildcats win their sixth straight game against the Gamecocks.
Leading the three-point barrage was Julius Mays. He hit 4-of-5 threes and has been one of the hottest outside shooters in the Southeastern Conference over the past seven games, shooting 19-of-32, including 72.7 percent in his last two games.
"I've known Julius for a long time and I've always known him to be a shooter," Ryan Harrow said. "Shooters shoot themselves into slumps and shoot themselves out of slumps and that's what he's doing."
Mays is doing just more than scoring. In his last three games he's had a combined 10 assists, which is the most he's totaled in a three-game stretch during SEC play.
He's mastered the shot fake and drive by of his defender, and he said it's much more effective when he's knocking down threes because defenders close in harder and faster.
And once he gets by his defender he has plenty of options, all of which increase UK's chances of scoring.
"Either I can shoot it off the dribble, shoot the floater, or get one of my teammates open," Mays said. "Or throwing a lob to Willie (Cauley-Stein) or Nerlens (Noel), or Alex (Poythress). If I'm not looking to score I'm looking to get someone else a shot."
That someone else was Harrow on Tuesday. Harrow didn't miss a shot and he credited Mays' efficiency for having defenses less keyed in on him.
"(Mays) opens the court up," Harrow said. "As you can see it was easier for me to get to the basket today and you know, either finish the shot or throw the ball up to the bigs. They are so worried about Julius or worried about Kyle (Wiltjer) on the wing."
Mays has hit at least two threes in all but two SEC games, but he said once he sees the first one goes in he feels more comfortable on his release throughout the remainder of the game.
"I just finally found my groove," Mays said. "(I'm) being more comfortable. I'm finding my way to get my shots up."
And that groove can be an integral part of UK's offense.
In typical Alex Poythress fashion Tuesday night, the freshman had some jaw-dropping plays, only to be matched with face-palming mistakes.
Poythress had another average night offensively, failing to score in double-figures for the second consecutive game and third in his last five. He also turned the ball over four times, his highest total in SEC play.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom for Poythress.
He grabbed nine rebounds, pushing his average to eight over his past four games. He also was in the right place at the right time, having several opportunities to score, but often couldn't finish.
Some of those missed opportunities sent him to the bench.
"Second half, you miss two dunks, you're out," Calipari said. "What's wrong? You tell me you're tired? Your leg hurts, your toenails? What is it? You missed two dunks. You've got to come out."
It's just tough love. With a little more than a month left to play in the season, Calipari is starting to hold his players accountable.
"I'm not being mean about it, it's just what it is," Calipari said. "I'm just holding him accountable. We're up 20, play. We're not that kind of team. We've got to ball."
Calipari, like the rest of the Big Blue Nation, knows Poythress can "ball," but he wants to see more of it, throughout the duration of a game.
Poythress only played 21 minutes Tuesday, and of the nine players who played for the Cats only Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood clocked less time.
"Yeah, he can do it," Calipari said. "It's just that sustaining it. The thing these guys are struggling with, a guy makes a mistake, he can't get over it. So now he goes back on defense and he's still thinking about the shot he missed, the turnover."
Calipari said Poythress isn't alone in letting one mistake turn into another, but nonetheless the team needs him to stay positive.
Mays said he's constantly telling Poythress to not let mistakes effect him.
"I tell him to stay positive with himself," Mays said. "Don't get down on himself, if you make a mistake smile instead of frowning all the time and getting down and letting it affect the way you play the rest of the game.
"If you make a mistake it's over, you can't go back and change it. Just do something to make up for it."
Cats closing in
With the Florida falling at Arkansas Tuesday and the Cats crushing South Carolina, UK is alone in second place in the SEC, just a game back of the Gators.
That might be hard for some to believe since UK still is considered something of an NCAA Tournament bubble team.
But Calipari isn't worried about the SEC race. As he's said all year, he's more concerned with his team.
"We don't have to worry about position in the league," Calipari said. "You guys know I'm not worried about league stuff. Everything we're doing is to try to improve ourselves and get better."
South Carolina coach Frank Martin has faced both UK and Florida this season and couldn't determine who's better between the two.
"(The UK/Florida game) is going to be interesting," Martin said. "Kentucky is playing a lot better offensively. It's not fair for me to comment on how they've been playing in the past weeks because I haven't watched a whole lot of them until two days ago. It just seems like they are playing a lot better offensively .
"Florida just relies on three guys. It'll be interesting because Erik Murphy is going to go stretch your fours and make your bigs come out and guard him. Kentucky has that depth on the front line, though."
Martin note that Florida's the more experienced team but said Calipari would make his young players play their best in next Tuesday's big game in Gainesville, Fla.
Regardless of the SEC race, Mays sees the Cats starting to come together, and halfway through the SEC season he hopes the progress doesn't stop.
"I think so, we're coming together slowly but surely," Mays said. "We would like to be a little faster since the season is coming to an end, but hey, we're still winning games. I think we're just a step or two from being where we want to be."