Kentucky Wildcat backcourt will be tested versus guard heavy Alabama Crimson Tide

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Jan 19, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Rodney Cooper (21) goes for the ball along with Texas A

It should be a unique game tonight as Alabama travels to Tuscaloosa to face the Alabama Crimson Tide. Despite all the hand wringing and worrying about the Wildcats season, tonight’s game is for sole possession of third place in the SEC. Ole Miss and Florida are both 4-0 and Kentucky and Alabama are both 3-1. Five teams are at 2-2 so this is a good chance to get some early separation from the pack in the conference. And like most games this year, Kentucky’s guard play will be scrutinized:

 

That will be key when Kentucky (12-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) hits the road again tonight against Alabama (11-6, 3-1), which is short on size and thus starts four guards that Calipari said are playing “as good as anybody in the country right now.” Trevor Lacey, Trevor Releford and Rodeny Cooper all average at least 11.6 points per game.

It’s unlikely the Cats will have the services of 7-foot starter Willie Cauley-Stein to help take advantage of that mismatch. Calipari wasn’t sure before Monday’s practice whether Cauley-Stein, who missed the last game following a “minor procedure” on his left knee, would participate. The coach said his freshman center wouldn’t make the trip to Tuscaloosa if he didn’t practice.

That means Goodwin and fellow guards Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays will be key against Alabama.

 

Jan 19, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA: Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) grabs a rebound during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Auburn Arena. The Wildcats beat the Tigers 75-53. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The other thing that will be scrutinized will be the play of Alex Poythress. Whether fair or not, Poythress has been a barometer of how Kentucky plays overall and against Auburn, Calipari estimated that Poythress had improved “20-25 percent”. Such improvement is expected tonight as well:

 

The effort Poythress shows — or doesn’t show — has been much discussed this season. Apparently, Calipari has re-adjusted what he seeks from Poythress: from all-out, relentless zeal to much less than 40 minutes of hellacious effort.

“Just three minutes hard,” Calipari said. “C’mon. C’mon. C’mon. And that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

Calipari reminded reporters that Poythress was a freshman. And a productive freshman. He’s second on the team in scoring (13.1 ppg), rebounding (6.4 rpg), free-throw attempts (78) and, as Calipari said, he’s “doing some pretty good stuff.”

But more is expected.

At Auburn, Poythress missed two put-back layups. Layups? On the second, Calipari reacted by putting his hands to his head as if to gesture disbelief. Later, Poythress dunked a put-back, and Calipari raised his palms up as if to say why hadn’t you done that before.

When asked Monday why Poythress didn’t slam home the first two put-backs, Calipari said with a tone of resignation, “It’s just his mentality right now. What we’re trying to change. How he views things.”

 

Jan 19, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA: Kentucky Wildcats guard Jarrod Polson (5) controls the ball as Auburn Tigers guard Josh Wallace (11) defends during the first half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Has Kentucky progressed since the loss to Texas A&M? Are all things perfect in Lexington? Ken Howlett from “A Sea of Blue” gives us some good news and bad news about Kentucky Basketball.

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