Poythress becomes 'a beast' when Kentucky needs it most

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 6, 2014 

  • NCAA championship game

    Kentucky (29-10) vs. Connecticut (31-8)

    When: 9:10 p.m. Monday (CBS)

    Where: Arlington, Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas — The last topic John Calipari hit on in his final press conference before Saturday's victory over Wisconsin was Alex Poythress.

The Kentucky coach sat there Friday and called Poythress "a beast." He said the sophomore forward will do things in practice that make his teammates stop and say, "Do that in a game."

Calipari's final words before leaving the podium were these: "I'm telling you, he is a terrific player, and if we're to do something special ... you all will be talking about him this weekend."

Boy, were they talking about him Saturday night.

Poythress was already having a great game off the bench as the contest entered its final minutes. With UK trailing 69-65, he took a pass in the lane and rose up for an improbable and-one dunk to cut the deficit to two points. He missed the free throw, but the momentum was back on the side of the Cats.

A couple of minutes later — after two UK free throws had tied it at 69 — Poythress made another spectacular play, rising far above the rim to tip in a lob pass and give the Cats the lead.

Wisconsin called a timeout and Poythress trotted back to the bench, where Calipari was waiting for him.

The UK coach grabbed him with both arms and planted a big kiss on Poythress' neck. After the game, Poythress smiled when he was asked about that moment.

His coaches and teammates haven't seen a whole lot of that smile this season. Everyone has seen a little more of it over the past few games.

"It was fun," Andrew Harrison said, "seeing him smile again and showing the world how good he is."

Harrison got the assists on both of Poythress' big offensive plays down the stretch. He seemed still in awe following the game.

The first one? "That dunk? Oh my goodness. I was so surprised he dunked it. I thought he was too far," Harrison said.

And the second? "It was a bad pass. But with Alex, you can never throw it too high. ... He went and got that one."

Poythress finished with eight points and tied a team high with seven rebounds. He made all four of his field-goal attempts and he often put himself in the right position to make plays.

Like Calipari said, these are things that Poythress does on a regular basis during UK's practices. He makes those plays, he turns those heads, but it doesn't always translate to the games.

Willie Cauley-Stein, relegated to the role of spectator because of an ankle injury, said that Poythress looked like he got "lost in the game" Saturday. He meant it in a good way.

"That's what he needs to do is get lost in the game," he said. "Stop thinking about so much. I think he just thinks about making mistakes and he plays timid. But when he just plays and doesn't worry about the outcome — he plays like he just did."

Poythress wasn't sitting at that podium Friday, and he looked surprised when he was told what Calipari had said about him. "I didn't know he said that."

There were apparently no special instructions between the UK coach and his sophomore forward heading into this weekend in North Texas. Poythress said Calipari just had a simple message for him.

"He just said to go out and ball — have fun playing. He said, 'You know you can do it, so go out and do it.'"

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