The blowout on the Bayou last Tuesday night did little to alleviate the fears of the Big Blue Nation.
Thumpings from decent but beatable Ohio State and UCLA teams left many fans wondering if John Calipari’s seventh team could win an SEC street fight away from the comfy confines of Rupp Arena.
Saturday evening in Tuscaloosa, Kentucky proved that--for one game at least--they could win an ugly game on the road.
A solid team effort in the second half helped the Wildcats pull away each time that the Crimson Tide pulled within striking distance, but in the first period two players came to Kentucky’s rescue, Jamal Murray and Alex Poythress.
Murray has already made his mark in a big game--his second half explosion against Ohio State--but Poythress often disappears on the big stage. A poor performance by he and frontcourt mate Marcus Lee in Baton Rouge earned a public rebuke from Calipari on the pair’s hot and cold effort level.
"They’ve always been in the now-and-then position. Every now and then give us a good game. Now it’s like every day. That’s hard. Everybody wants to be in that position, but the responsibility to be ready, to be prepared for a dogfight every (game is hard). Not fouling out of games, not walking, not hiding. No. Every day", said Calipari during his Friday news conference.
Poythress took his coaches’ message to heart and by the 18:21 mark of the first half he had muscled his way to five points and two rebounds.
Easy baskets in the early going helped feed Poythress’ confidence, he said during the postgame press conference.
Getting the ball to Poythress in the post early was by design according to Calipari.
"We were going to post him up one way or another to start the game…"
The Tennessee native did not let up for the rest of the half. He rewarded fantastic passes by Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe by converting on layups and passing up jump shots he has unwisely settled for on several occasions this season.
Poythress also consistently got to the foul line in the first half, converting 8-of-10 attempts before finishing 9-for-11 for the game. He finished the game with a career-high 25 points and also fetched seven rebounds.
So what inspired the senior forward’s ferocious play?
"You just have to get that bad taste out of everyone’s mouth when you have a bad game", Poythress reflected.
Poythress would be best served to remember the awful taste of the LSU game for the rest of the season because his play his vital to the team’s success.
With a roster full of lean big men, Poythress is the only game-ready hoss the Cats’ have at their disposal.
Alex may never be the "beast" that Calipari consistently wants him to be, but he has to give the team something in the post.
Just three or four baskets a night or even a handful of trips to the charity stripe will suffice.That will make opponents respect Kentucky’s inside- outside game just enough to potentially open up the lane or a clear look from deep for guards.
Regardless, for one night, Poythress and teammates finally showed that they could bring the fight on the road, and for now, the BBN can rest a little easier and believe in their boys in blue.