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March 11, 2013His daughter was sleeping, but Julius Mays wanted her awake and on the court with him for Senior Day ceremonies.
So after poking a hole in the hoop bearing his name and likeness and receiving a framed Kentucky jersey, Mays took his daughter in his arms as he stood at the center of Rupp Arena one last time.
"She might be mad at me, I broke her little nap," Mays said of Laiah, nearly four months old. "I'm just glad I could have her here. She won't remember this, but we'll have pictures, so I'll show her when she gets old."
Mays is definitely old enough to remember that moment, and what came after, forever.
The senior played a vital role in Kentucky's 61-57 win over Florida that capped a 21-10 regular season and helped the Wildcats earn the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.
Before the game, Mays - along with the rest of his teammates - was given two individualized goals for the game by coach John Calipari. His were to "find a way to score" 12 to 14 points and to "hold every guy 100 percent accountable," Mays said.
Check and check.
Mays finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting. He hit three three-pointers, including one with 9:02 left in the game that brought Kentucky within one point.
"You can't come up short," Calipari said of Mays needing to reach his point total. "I don't care how you get 'em."
None of his field goals, however, were as crucial as two made free throws to clinch the victory. With 10 seconds left, up two, Kentucky was set to inbound the ball. Calipari drew up a play that involved Mays curling off a screen and receiving the ball after the inbounder faked a pass to Kyle Wiltjer.
Mays wanted things a bit more simple.
"He walked out, 'I ain't curling anything, just get me the ball,'" Calipari said.
So he didn't curl. He broke to his right, received the pass, got fouled, and sank both free throws to put UK up four and the game out of reach.
"I had a lot of good moments in my college career, but that one is probably my biggest one because we needed that win to keep our hopes alive," Mays said. "I wanted that ball. I wanted to shoot those free throws."
It was another case of Mays coming up big in the clutch. He said it's his "nature as a player" to want the ball in pressurized situations because he can live with a make or a miss.
As for the other half of his list of goals - hold his teammates accountable - Mays accomplished that, too. He appeared even more animated in talking to teammates after mistakes.
"You can't talk enough about the things Julius has done for our team. He just brings a leadership that we haven't had," Archie Goodwin said. "The way he steps up for us in big times and crunch situations, you can't thank him enough."
The thanks can come in the form of more wins for Mays, who isn't ready to be done with his college career.
His time at Rupp Arena has ended, though, in a "bittersweet" victory that saw him score the last points of the game.
"I've enjoyed my last year here (at Kentucky)," Mays said, "and my last game here was even better."