Alex Poythress did not play a perfect game in Kentucky's 61-57 victory over Florida on Saturday. That's why UK Coach John Calipari considered the nine-point, 12-rebound contribution significant.
"There was one spell that he gave up," Calipari said "He's done that throughout the year. ... Took him out. His teammates got all over him. And he said, 'Put me back in.' He grew up today because he went back in and finished those last seven minutes and was a beast."
Poythress made good on a pledge from the day before. He acknowledged that he had not always played intensely and said it was time to change his ways.
"It was just time to grow up, really," he said after the game. " ... We can't be little kids forever. We have to be young adults. We have to be young men. It's just time to grow up.
"People mature at different rates, you know. It just took me a little extra time, I guess."
Teammate Archie Goodwin noted how Poythress shook off personal reversals rather than hang his head.
"That was huge," Goodwin said. "We knew that we needed Alex to win this game. And Alex knew that we needed him to win this game. And if Alex doesn't play good, more times than not, it's not going to be good for us and it's going to result in a loss. So when we can get him to play up to his potential, that's always going to be a positive for us."
Poythress expressed the hope that the victory over Florida exorcised the head-down Alex for the rest of the season.
"Yeah, I think so," he said. "I'm just trying to do my best and keep my head up and stay positive. People make mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen. You just have to keep on playing. That's what the game of basketball is about."
Selection Sunday will determine if the victory over Florida assured Kentucky of an NCAA Tournament bid. It improved UK's record to 2-4 against teams with a Ratings Percentage Index in the top 50.
"At our best, we are an NCAA Tournament team," Calipari said. "When we're not at our best, we're not very good."
For Kentucky to be its best, "that takes everybody playing (well)," Calipari said. "That takes everybody being responsible."
Florida Coach Billy Donovan endorsed Kentucky as an NCAA Tournament team, although it was not a full-throated endorsement.
"They certainly have a lot of the individually talented pieces," he said. "There's no doubt about that."
Donovan saluted UK's ability to adjust to the loss of Nerlens Noel and keep on track for post-season play. "I think they're good enough ... to play with anybody," he said.
Kyle Wiltjer continued to struggle. He missed all seven shots (0-for-3 from three-point range) en route to his second scoreless game of the season (the first was the home game against Texas A&M). In the last seven games, he's made 15 of 57 shots (six of 27 from beyond the arc).
Calipari noted how Florida tried to exploit Wiltjer as a defender.
"We've just got to figure out what we do because it's hard to leave him in the game if they're scoring on him every time," the UK coach said. "But we'll figure it out. ... Everybody wants him to make every shot, but I don't care. He can miss every shot if he defends."
Donovan suggested that the absence of Nerlens Noel better enables teams to go at Wiltjer. "He got exposed a lot more defensively," the Florida coach said.
No coincidence that Julius Mays made two clinching free throws with 9.4 seconds left. UK's graduate student/shooting guard all but demanded the ball, Calipari said.
Mays improved to 19 of 23 from the line in the final three minutes of regulation or overtime.
"I live for the last few seconds of the game," Mays said. "I always want the ball, especially in a situation like that."
When a reporter mentioned how Mays touched the bottom of his shoes before each shot, the UK player said, "That's just my routine. It's just in my head. I like my hands to be really, really dry."
Kentucky won while making only 39.3 percent of its shots. That marked the worst UK shooting accuracy in a victory since beating Louisville 69-62 in the regular season last season. The Cats made only 29.8 percent of their shots in that game (17 of 57).
"Those are my old school teams," Calipari said. "That's my UMass teams. That's how we played. ... We gutted it out and we defend you. Then we figure out a way of trying to win it at the end."
Mays' infant daughter, Laiah, who turns four months old later this month, was with her father during the Senior Day ceremony.
"She might be mad at me," he said. "I broke her little nap."
Donovan called timeouts 48 seconds into the first half and 87 seconds into the second.
"We were just too loose," he said. " ... I thought, clearly, Kentucky was the more aggressive team. I just tried to get our guys to respond."
Donovan lamented a lob pass for Casey Prather thrown too high by Scottie Wilbekin with the score tied at 57.
"Throwing a lefty pass up in the air like that, (you must be) more fundamentally sound," he said.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com