By LARRY VAUGHT
He only played 17 minutes, but it was an impactful 17 minutes for Kentucky.
Alex Poythress returned from a knee injury and minor surgery that kept him out of five games to score 14 points in the 78-53 win over Alabama. He only had one rebound, but that mattered little because just having him back was a plus for Kentucky.
“I was really proud of him. He could have stayed out a couple more days. He knew the team needed him. He was sick over Texas A&M (overtime loss). He felt like, ‘I probably could have gone in and helped.’ But he just wasn’t quite there,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “So to have one day to practice, to do what he did, amazing. He looked comfortable. He took himself in and out. So he was good. He was good.”
Alabama coach Avery Johnson thought Poythress, who had 25 points in UK’s win at Alabama, was better than good.
“We prepared to play him. We basically had an idea that this is the game that they circled for him to return. The energy that he gives them running up and down the floor, the shot blocking – even when he doesn’t block shots, the way he contests them in the interior. And again, he’s just a terrific pick and roll player. When he picks and pops he does a great job of taking bigger guys off of the dribble,” Johnson said.
This game also put to rest theories that some seem to have that UK might be better without Poythress in the lineup even though he gives UK a defender unlike anyone else on the team.
“No, it’s not better without him. When Alex is the best version of himself, he’s as good as any guy his size in the country, but he’s got to come every day and be that guy,” Calipari said. “Today he played it without having played for two, three weeks. He was close to it for spurts. Now it’s like, Okay, it’s time to finish.”
Tyler Ulis, who had 10 assists, said it was “great” having Poythress back.
“That gives us a post presence. Throwing the ball down there tonight to him helped us out a lot, especially when they went zone throwing it to the middle and him getting buckets,” Uis said.
Marcus Lee said he sensed in practice Monday that Poythress was ready to return.
“We had to make sure he took the right precautions, and once he felt good, we just let him go,” Lee said.”He kind of went through practice fearless like nothing had happened, and you kind of noticed it as he went through our practice,” Lee said.
Poythress said he missed basketball but knew he had to wait until he was physically ready to return. He knew the time was here when he went through Monday’s practice without hurting. It helped when he dunked on teammate Charles Matthews.
He wouldn’t reveal what happened to his knee.
“I tweaked my right knee,” Poythress said.
Did he have surgery?
“I mean I just tweaked my knee,” he stated again probably in just the way Calipari would have wanted.
He knows he only has a few games left in his UK career and wants to make most of them.
“We want to leave out on a bang, just leave out on top really,” Poythress said.