By LARRY VAUGHT
Just when it seemed that Alex Poythress has turned the corner and was ready to play the way coach John Calipari envisioned, the UK freshman took a step back at Arkansas.
Poythress had 21 points and seven rebounds in an overtime win over Missouri where he displayed the quick, powerful moves to the basket Calipari knew he had. Against Mississippi State, he came back with 16 points and eight rebounds. In the two games, he was a combined 15-for-21 from the field and had just one turnover.
At Arkansas, he got nine points and only four rebounds. He didn’t miss a shot, but he took only three. He picked up several careless fouls and eventually fouled out of the 73-60 loss after playing only 17 minutes. He also had three of UK’s 19 turnovers.
Count his father, Antoine Poythress, among those perplexed by the freshman’s play, too.
“I was so happy to see him have a good game (against Missouri),” Antoine Poythress said. “He finally seemed more relaxed. I talked to him and he said it wasn’t that he did anything different against Missouri. He was just more relaxed the last few weeks. He always tells me everything is fine.”
His father thought he played well during UK’s three-game win streak and was more aggressive on offense. “He even took a pull-up baseline jumper for the first time all year, and that’s a shot he can make,” Antoine Poythress said. “I know he’s young, but he has played a lot of basketball. I always expect him to do well.”
His numbers don’t look bad. He’s averaging 11.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game — both second on the team. He’s shooting a team-best 58.9 percent from the field and is 13-for-29 from 3-point range.
But who is the real Alex Poythress? Is it the player who scored 20 or more points in four straight games early in the season and had 21 against Missouri or is it the player who managed just 29 points in a five-game SEC stretch and went 1-for-9 at Florida and scored only four points at Tennessee?
“What he did against Missouri was not out of the ordinary. That’s what he is capable of doing,” his father said. “I know he can face, make up or two dribbles and power through guys like he did that game. He just needs to focus on one day, one game at a time and just play well. He is more than capable. He’s my kid, but I still think he is one of the best players in the country.
“Sometimes I think he is just not aggressive enough. That maybe comes with having teammates capable of doing things, but he has to understand he is capable of doing things and has to stay aggressive on both ends because that helps his teammates. I know he is not trying to do too much, but at times he has to do a lot more than he’s doing. I would be guessing to try to find a rhyme or reason for why he is not more aggressive at times. Part of it just comes from being around nice teammates and just wanting to fit in more so than doing what he is capable.
“Against Missouri, he did what he did within the flow of the offense and flow of the game. He just has to find that niche and just keep doing that. I tell him sometimes he is probably too efficient. There are not a lot of players shooting almost 60 percent from the field, but sometimes that percentage is too high because you are not taking enough shot. He does not have the personality to just come down and jack it up. He does not care if he does not take a lot of shots. He just wants to win and it’s not about personal accolades for him. But I tell him he needs to do well for his team, too.”
That is the same message Calipari has been telling Poythress and certainly will be true Thursday when the Wildcats play at Georgia in a game they must win to stay in NCAA Tournament contention.
“What I communicate to Alex is not being a selfish player, but that he has to score for his team to do well. He has to be aggressive enough to make his man play defense. I tell him to just show some aggression and not go a whole game without scoring or making solid attempts to score,” Antoine Poythress said.