By LARRY VAUGHT
Alex Poythress says there is no simple reason for his improved play that continues to draw praise from coach John Calipari.
“I don’t know, just competing in practice more, just playing better in practice, is translating to the game. I never heard ‘balls to the wall’ before (comment from teammate James Young),” Poythress said. “I’m just trying to play better and do what this team needs me to do, make plays. Really try to focus on defense more, try to be a better defender. I feel that it’s working out very well. You worry about your defense and offense will take care of itself.”
Poythress had a brilliant start to his UK career as a freshman with five games of 20-plus points early in the season but tailed off as the season went on. He opted not to leave Kentucky for the NBA even though he’s now a reserve instead of a starter like he was last year.
Recently, though, Calipari has noted time after time that Poythress is playing the best he has since has been at UK even though he’s not had a big scoring game.
“It just shows that you don’t always have to score to be playing good. You can do other things. You can rebound, you can defend. You can just do simple things, leadership out there, just directing traffic, directing people where to go and just doing little things like that,” Poythress said. “I feel like I’m getting a pretty good eye on what he wants.”
Poythress says he takes pride now along with freshman Dominique Hawkins to come into the game and provide energy for the team — and even the fans.
“Me and Dom, if we’re not going to start then we might as well come off the bench and bring off energy. If we’re going to play good, then play good while you’re out there so we can stay in. We just try to make the most of our opportunities,” the sophomore said. “We’re just playing as a team. We’re meshing together. We know how to play off each other more and more.”
Calipari says Poythress has been “unbelievable” in practice.
“He is in great shape. He is not winded twice up and down the court. He doesn’t have to think about how to take a minute off,” the UK coach said. “He is just playing. Now I need him to be more active offensively. If he’s open, make a shot. He can dribble left or right into the lane and shoot a jump hook. But he is defending better. He is rebounding better.”
Poythress says the win over Louisville was just what UK needed before having 10 days off before it opens Southeastern Conference play Wednesday against Mississippi State.
“It’s a confidence boost. You always want to get a win when you go into a game, so it translates to the next game. We’re trying to get a little winning streak going, just trying to take it one game at a time,” Poythress said. “This is a new year, so we’re not even worrying about last year no more. We just want to take it one game at a time, just want to perform on game day — any game. We just want to perform.”