The play of the night was not Alex Poythress’s testosterone-fueled dunk to put a definitive end to the game. It wasn’t Archie Goodwin’s twisting layup followed by a Tarzan-like chest thump to the eRUPPtion zone, nor was it Julius Mays’ three pointer to save Kentucky’s streak of games with at least one three pointer made. And before you even ask, no, the play of the game definitely was not Devon Atkinson’s ability to hold back his tears as Sean Woods got in his face on the sideline (although that was admirable, almost as admirable as his French braids).
No, the play that deserved to be on Sports Center can be summed up in this picture:
With about a minute left to go in the game, Archie Goodwin went down. Before the Rupp crowd could collectively gasp in horror, Julius Mays was there by his side to help him back up- or at least, that’s what we assumed. Instead, Uncle Jul took it one step further and literally carried Archie on his back to the sidelines- piggyback style- safely depositing the team’s leading scorer on the bench to the chuckles of everyone who witnessed it.
It was a small gesture. A goofy gesture. A light-hearted moment in a game filled with physical fouls, head coach tirades, whistle-happy refs, and a general consensus that this game was uglier than Joakim Noah on a bad hair day. But for UK fans- it has a much bigger meaning.
Let’s look at the physical metaphor first. Julius Mays- who had a solid night with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and no turnovers- was carrying the team’s leading scorer on his back. Archie went off last night for 28 points, coming from a combination of free throws (thanks, Hack a Cat strategy) and acrobatic drives to the basket. If Archie wanted to score last night, lord help anyone who tried to stand in his way. But even the leading scorer needs a little help sometimes. Despite the abundance of superstardom on any one of his teams, Calipari coaches with a team mentality. Sure, one player may carry the team through any one game- but the go-to guy can change at any point during the season, and when that happens, the rest of the team will be there as a supporting cast. Tonight, Archie Goodwin carried the Cats, and Julius Mays was there to back him up- on the scoreboard and literally on the court. At some point during the season, the roles may very well be reversed.
Also, the Mays/Goodwin piggyback ride shows something we’ve heard about constantly with last year’s team but maybe haven’t quite seen evidence of this year- brotherhood. Yes, we know they call each other bro on Twitter, and walk to class together in their matching Beats by Dre. Mays and Goodwin’s piggyback ride is physical proof of the bonding this team has already experienced- a bond that will only get stronger as the season progresses and they face tougher and tougher challenges. Honesty time, how many people do you like enough to give a piggyback ride to? I can think of maybe six, if we’re counting my dogs. Julius Mays was his brother’s
keeper carrier last night.
Another thing about that piggyback ride? Once I saw what was happening and got over my initial giggle fit, I thought, “It WOULD be Julius doing that.” More and more, Julius is building his reputation as the Kentucky glue guy, much like Darius Miller’s role on the team last year. Archie wasn’t surprised either; in post-game interviews when asked about the moment, Archie called Julius “my big brother” and said that was his role on the team. That support will be invaluable during the postseason. I’m calling it now: “That’s So Julius” is the new “That’s So Darius.”
And to end on a lighter note- we’ve said it before and we’ve said it again. Guys, this is going to be a fun team to watch. Uncle Jul and little cousin Archie, among others, will guarantee that. And that, friends, is something to be thankful for.
@KristenGeilKSR for UK basketball and the life of a vegetarian on Thanksgiving