Midway through the second half of Kentucky's 90-38 rout of Eastern Michigan Wednesday night, Alex Poythress ripped a rebound from an opposing player's tentative grasp. He then tried to score while being fouled. He tried.
Before Poythress could get to the foul line, teammate Julius Mays rushed up and offered a chest-to-chest well-done.
"He's the guy to show the least amount of emotion he can," Mays said of Poythress. "We're always trying to get him to smile. He's the only guy I know who could dunk on somebody and run back down court with his head down."
On the exuberant meter, Poythress stayed well short of, say, Matthew Mitchell at Big Blue Madness. But he made a prophet of John Calipari.
Poythress as Calipari's personal lab experiment this week had been well chronicled. The fruits of that labor would be obvious, the UK coach said.
"He just wants to see that fight in you, just see that drive," Poythress said of Calipari's reaction to the scrappy play that put Kentucky ahead 60-23. "He wants to see you fight for balls and see that passion out there."
When asked how Calipari reacted to his more animated performance (16 points, five rebounds), Poythress said, "He just said, 'Good job. You're making progress. You're not there yet, but I was happy to see you making strides.'"
The same could be said of the Kentucky team.
For this night, UK looked like the team of Calipari's oft-stated dreams. The Cats competed earnestly and relentlessly.
UK, 9-4, hit the floor repeatedly and outscrapped the visitors about as often. Unlike in earlier would-be routs in Rupp Arena this season, Kentucky hardly paused.
Ryan Harrow captured the greater single-mindedness when a reporter asked about UK beginning the second half with a 15-0 run. "I didn't even notice," he said.
If this was a much-needed tonic after the dispiriting loss to arch-rival Louisville last weekend, it was a bracing brew.
Plenty of Cats contributed. Harrow scored 15 points, handed out eight assists, made a career-high four steals and surpassed his season's total of three three-pointers by making a career-high four shots from beyond the arc. Willie Cauley-Stein posted a double-double (11 points and 11 rebounds). Nerlens Noel grabbed 13 rebounds. Mays, who had made one of 15 three-point shots in the last three games, made three of seven from beyond the arc in a 13-point night.
Kentucky, which begins Southeastern Conference play next Thursday at Vanderbilt, used defense and hustle to overwhelm Eastern Michigan (7-6).
Helped by Eastern Michigan's offensive ineptitude, Kentucky held the visitors to 24.2-percent shooting (a season-low for a UK opponent).
Eastern Michigan made only three of its first 16 shots, and didn't get its fourth basket until the 6:20 mark of the first half. To add to the misery, the Eagles missed their last five shots (one a block by Noel) and eight of its final nine.
For the first time this season, Kentucky went big to start the game. Noel, Cauley-Stein and Poythress started with guards Harrow and Goodwin.
His team averaging less than 60 points a game coming to Kentucky, Eastern Michigan Coach Rob Murphy said of the big lineup, "I knew it'd be even tougher. There was not much we could do to stop what was happening."
The size would create second-chance opportunities for UK and inhibit any impulse to shoot quick threes, he said. Eastern Michigan's concern about UK's size (40-16 edge in points from the paint) led to open three-point attempts, of which the Cats made 10.
"I like the big team," Calipari said. "That's what we've been practicing. But Alex had to play, for me to play that team. We can't come out with the (lack of) energy or the lack of effort that he has in some of these games. He came after it in this game."
Poythress, one of an unprecedented four freshman starters for Calipari, drove with purpose for dunks. He also foiled Murphy's hope of having a matchup advantage at small forward with Daylen Harrison (6-foot-6, 214). Poythress, an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier, was the bigger, quicker player.
"I thought he was great," the Eastern Michigan coach said of Poythress. "His activity was good. He played really good defense ...
"He's one of the better athletes in the Southeastern Conference and throughout the country."
To Calipari's delight, Poythress looked like it.