On his way from the post-game news conference to the post-game radio show, Kentucky Coach John Calipari stopped to give sophomore Alex Poythress a high-five and proud-of-you affirmation.
"It's a great feeling," Poythress said of the gesture. "Just showing you're working hard and somebody is noticing it."
Calipari gushed about contributions from Poythress to UK's 73-66 victory over Louisville on Saturday. His seven points and five rebounds in only 21 minutes helped the Cats withstand the absence of the freshman star of stars, Julius Randle.
"He gave us one more defender," Calipari said. "He gave us one more rebounder. He gave us one more guy who could switch on pick-and-rolls. And he was fighting around the goal, so they were not getting any easy baskets."
Poythress's play came as no surprise to teammate James Young.
"Alex has been really stepping it up," Young said. "In practice, he always goes the hardest. His heart rate is always up the most. He just keeps working harder and harder, and it showed today, He went balls to the wall just kept playing."
As a freshman, Poythress heard his intensity questioned repeatedly. He said he felt more confident and comfortable this season.
Calipari noted how Poythress can improve and expand his game. Take and make a few more jump shots, a few more pull-up shots in the lane.
"But I really believe he's going to get better and better," Calipari said. "Because ... he's buying in. He knows he has to do it."
No surprise that UK got the best of U of L around the basket. The Cats enjoyed a 44-36 rebounding advantage and a 42-24 edge in points from the paint.
"We are getting outplayed in the three, four and five spots physically," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. "Never mind execution-wise. We are just getting taken on the backboard, taken inside, and we have to improve in those areas."
U of L did much better with Randle off the floor. The Cards got 10 of their 12 offensive rebounds in the second half.
Calipari scoffed at attempts to paint the game as a test of which approach worked best: UK's reliance on one-and-done players or Rick Pitino's more traditional dependence on veteran players.
One national columnist wrote that the game was a "referendum" on Calipari's method at program building at UK.
"Please, stop," Calipari said. "... There's no 'Cal Way.' There's no 'Cal Ball.' This is about those players.
"Last year, Louisville was better than us, and if they had played us again, they would have beat our brains in again. Two years ago, we were better than them twice. And we were better than them. And we beat them twice.
"Well, young, old, ugly, pretty, (it) doesn't matter."
Freshman Dominique Hawkins continued to make his presence felt. His tenacious defense helped slow down U of L's Chris Jones, who scored 13 points in the game's first 11 minutes and five thereafter.
"Dominique went in and made two or three plays just by hustle next to the goal," Calipari said. "Now, why aren't my 6-6 guards doing that? He's in there just fighting like crazy, and it's a great lesson for us."
Oh, those refs
Louisville tried in vain to draw charges against Randle.
When asked if the crowd affected his players, Pitino said, "I think the referees were more affected than our players were."
Pitino mentioned the referees when asked about Randle.
"I thought we drew a clean offensive foul on the first play of the game and, obviously, the referee who's on this game every year didn't agree with me," Pitino said.
That was a reference to Tony Greene.
"I think Randle is terrific for the new rules," Pitino said, meaning how charges are called less.
Calipari countered by likening Randle to Shaquille O'Neal, both big men who get no sympathy (and no calls) when defenders get physical.
■ This wasn't the first time Randle suffered from cramps. Calipari said doctors pumped three bags of fluid into the freshman. "Because I was saying, 'Get him back. Squeeze it,'" the UK coach quipped.
■ Familiar faces sitting behind the U of L bench included Pitino buddies Joe Iracane and Ron Carmicle, former UK player Wayne Turner (a program assistant at U of L) and Father Ed Bradley.