Kentucky guard Julius Mays found the ball in his hands in the final seconds against Missouri Saturday heading up court with the score tied and he almost threw away the Wildcats' chances of earning an NCAA tournament bid.
He reached half court and heaved a shot at the rim with more than 3 seconds remaining on the clock and freshman teammate Archie Goodwin sprinting unguarded toward the basket. Mays could have easily passed the ball to Goodwin for a much higher percentage shot, maybe even a layup or a dunk.
His heave missed off the iron and the game went to overtime where the Wildcats won 90-83 with plenty of help from Missouri point guard Phil Pressey. Meanwhile, Mays atoned for his mental miscue by scoring eight points in the overtime.
The victory was Kentucky's most noteworthy of the season and its first against an RPI top 50 opponent.
It might not save Kentucky (19-8, 10-4) from the NCAA chopping block if it doesn't finish the regular season strong and avoid an early loss in the SEC tournament, but it definitely keeps the Wildcats in the bubble conversation as they learn how to play without injured star Nerlens Noel.
Kentucky's best defender, leading shot blocker and rebounder suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Feb. 12 loss to Florida. The Wildcats didn't respond well in their first game without Noel, losing by 30 to a mediocre Tennessee team but have since beaten Vanderbilt and Missouri at home.
Missouri's stock has been rising and falling with each game it seems in recent weeks. The Tigers (19-8, 8-6) were feeling good about themselves after a win over Florida last week only to let another win slip through their fingers in Rupp Arena. They are now 1-7 on the road and haven't won more than two in a row since December. They are hardly the dominant team they were once thought to be when they were ranked as high as No. 7.
Pressey reprised what has become a familiar tale to Tigers fans this season. He was instrumental in keeping his team in the game through much of regulation but he turned the ball several times and took ill-advised shots in crunch time that ended up costing his team the game.
As brilliant as Pressey looks at times at home and earlier in games on the road, he seems to get the wide-eyed look of a freshman and makes freshman-like mistakes late in road games. It also happened at LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Pressey scored 27 points but it took him 24 shots to get there. He also had 10 assists and four turnovers.
Missouri goes back on the road for its next game Thursday at South Carolina and also must travel to Tennessee for the regular season finale March 9. If the Tigers' road struggles continue in one or both those games, their NCAA tournament seeding is going to continue to suffer.