By KEITH TAYLOR, The Winchester Sun
LEXINGTON — Alex Poythress has changed, and for the better.
Poythress has been getting Kentucky coach John Calipari’s attention in practice, and his performance in the Wildcats’ 73-66 win over Louisville Saturday provided a glimpse into the traits the sophomore forward has developed behind the scenes.
Poythress made 3-of-4 shots from the field, including a game-clinching dunk on an assist from teammate Andrew Harrison, scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in 21 minutes on the floor in a 73-66 win over Louisville Saturday at Rupp Arena. In his two years at Kentucky, Calipari said Poythress has “never been like this” at any time.
“When he was in the game, he gave us one more defender, he gave us one more rebounder, he gave us one more guy who could switch on pick-and-rolls and he was fighting them around the goal, so they were not getting any easy baskets, and he’s playing within himself,” Calipari said.
Poythress doesn’t mind doing the little things to give the team a boost.
“It just shows you don’t always have to score to be playing good,” he said. “You can do other things. You can rebound, defend and doing the little things, (showing) leadership out there, directing traffic and telling people where to go (on offense and defense).
“If you’re not going to start, you might as well come off the bench and bring energy (into the game). If you play good while you’re out there, you can stay in the game, trying to make the most of the opportunity.”
Calipari would like Poythress “to take a couple more jumpers, a couple one-dribble pullups into the lane” but knows it will be a progression instead of an overnight success story. Poythress said the improvement has been because of his focus in practice.
“I’ve been competing in practice more and playing better in practice,” he said. “I’m just trying to take that into the game. I’m just trying to play better and do what the team needs me to do. I’m really trying to focus on defense more be a better defender. If you play defense, then offense will take care of itself.”
Poythress also is getting used to the speed of the game, a switch from past habits that have proven to be beneficial to the Wildcats. The efforts by Poythress are what Calipari has been waiting for since Poythress arrived in campus.
“He’s only now becoming comfortable playing at a high pace, high rate, with unbelievable intensity and sustaining it, first time in his life, so he’s just getting used to it,” the Kentucky coach said. “But, I really believe he’s going to get better and better, because he’s now, no excuse, he’s buying in, he knows he has to do it.”
Poythress agreed with his coach and feels like he’s “getting it pretty good” and added the other players are starting to following his lead.
“We’re beginning to play as a team,” he said. “We’re meshing and learning to play (with) each other more and more.”
Aside from own progression as a player, Poythress said the win over the Cardinals gave the team a lift after dropping three games to ranked opponents this season.
“It’s a confidence boost,” Poythress said. “You always want to get a win when you go into a game, especially (against a rival). We’re just trying to take it one game at a time.”
Poythress also liked the atmosphere, which featured the ninth largest crowd in Rupp Arena history.
“It was crazy,” he said. “The atmosphere was incredible, especially for a rivalry game. I wish it was like that every game.”