By LARRY VAUGHT
Not having Derek Willis turned out not to be much of a problem for Kentucky here Tuesday night because it got an unexpected boost from Alex Poythress.
Willis twisted an ankle in Saturday’s overtime loss at Texas A&M and no timetable has been set for his return. But Poythress, who had missed five games with a knee injury, had 14 points in 17 minutes in the 78-53 win. He had 25 points in UK’s win at Alabama earlier this season.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson expected Poythress to play and said he gave the Cats energy.
“He is just a tough guy to cover inside. He is quick for our big guys. You are talking about a guy if not injured (last season) he probably would not be in building this year (but in the NBA),” Johnson, a former NBA player and coach, said. “He is a tough guy. But at end of the day what does it come down to — Tyler Ulis getting him the ball. He is a coach’s dream. His double-double speaks volumes.”
Of course, Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis were … Murray and Ulis. Murray had 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the field and 7-for-8 at the foul line to go with four rebounds, two blocks and one steal on his birthday. Ulis was just 5-for-13 from the field and did not make a 3-pointer, but he was 9-for-11 at the foul line and had 19 points, 10 assists and three steals. Ulis played 36 minutes and Murray 37.
Johnson came away even more impressed with Ulis.
“He is a pro. He can play on the professional level. He is probably better than a lot of guys there. He is good. He can do everything,” Johnson said. “He is a pure point guard that can hold his own. He takes charges. He throws his body in there. As a coach you don’t like coaching against him. I see lot of things I did as a player in him.”
Alabama was just 17 of 48 from the field — 35.4 percent — and if not for Retin Obasohan going 9-for-13 from the field to score 29 points the Tide was 8-for-35 from the field.
“Kentucky was on top of their game. They played well. Ulis and Murray are hard to handle,” Johnson said. “We had one guy who tried to do his best to be competitive, but basically it was two against one.
“They were the aggressor. We just did not have the energy and confidence we have had through SEC play. Give them credit. They had that fire in their eyes. They were one step faster than us, they jumped out about two steps higher. Kentucky was just that much better than us.”
Kentucky also had just four turnovers compared to 12 for Alabama. The Cats were just 2-for-10 from 3-point range but made 22 of 28 free throws. Kentucky had 40 points in the paint and averaged 1.238 points per possession.