By LARRY VAUGHT
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings didn’t have any trouble explaining what impact Alex Poythress’ play had on Saturday’s win over his team.
“Poythress was really good, really efficient and dominated the inside for them,” said Stallings.
How good? In 27 minutes, he was 8-for10 from the field for 16 points and had two rebounds. He didn’t have a steal, assist or blocked shot, but he also did not have a turnover and played solid inside defense.
He went right at Vanderbilt 7-footer Luke Kornett early in the game to help UK establish dominance in the paint. The Cats finished with 34 points in the paint compared to 18 for Vanderbilt.
Kentucky coach John Calipari thought this might be a “hard” game for Poythress because of Vandy’s size.
“But he proves if he just plays as an athlete and not as a bully, he just jumps and he’s long and he can do it. See, it’s easier if you try to bully. You don’t have to lower your feet, you can lower your shoulder. It just doesn’t get anything done. Being that athlete, bending your leg and exploding, being aggressive and going at the goal, it’s hard. Standing there and doing that, that was easy. This stuff that we have to do here and how this team has to play is really hard,” Calipari said.
“I think he’s making an effort. One of the things I said to him — and I’ve said this to all the guys, Marcus (Lee) and other guys — if you — you know, the old saying where you can’t do the same things over and over and expect a different result. The other side of that is you’ve got to ask different questions of yourself if you want to change. So the questions you’re asking aren’t working. So what are new questions? Instead of, ‘I want to do this and this,’ maybe the question is ‘Why am I not? What’s holding me back?’ Or, ‘If I do these things, I wonder if that will help me?’ I mean, you’ve got to ask yourself those questions.”
Kentucky fans have been wanting consistent play from Poythress. Calipari wants more, a lot more.
“How about this, I don’t even want him to be more consistent. I want him to grow. I want him to get better each game. I don’t want you to be more — like, let me be more consistent, I’m the same every time out. No, be better every time out. Do more every time out. You’re the best man on the court. Go be that guy,” Calipari said after Saturday’s win.
Poythress says he feels a strong start by him sets the tone for how teammates play and can add energy for the Cats.
“If we come out lackadaisical, we’re going to play lackadaisical,” Poythress said. If we come out aggressive, most likely we’re going to play aggressive. I feel like people feed energy off me so I have got to make sure I come out with energy to help the team.”
With Derek Willis also in the starting lineup, Poythress played a lot at center where he said he tried to use his quickness against Vandy’s size.
“Just because they’re big, you can’t be intimidated by anybody. We weren’t intimidated. We were just aggressive from the start, both our bigs and our guards,” Poythress said.
Calipari called plays for Poythress specifically to open both halves and each time Poythress scored.
“You have got to like that feeling because all the responsibility and all the pressure is on you. You have to make that play,” Poythress said. “It’s not like, alright, if he calls on you then alright, somebody else go make the play. No, you have to step up and make the play.”
Like Poythress did Saturday.