On a night when the Kentucky Wildcats reverted to some of their old habits, one Wildcat to emerge as perhaps one of their best players. Last nights win over Texas A&M showed Kentucky display a couple of their season long deficiencies as they shot 28.6% from long-range and 66.7% from the free throw line. Alex Poythress shone and was the best player on the court last night.
What Calipari saw became obvious to all Tuesday night. Poythress made play after play on both ends of the court in a second-half flurry that propelled Kentucky to a 68-51 victory over Texas A&M.
With UK leading 39-33, Poythress hit two free throws. Then he rose from the pack to block a Texas A&M shot. Then he drove on the fast-break to a three-point play.
After the Aggies hit a three-pointer, Poythress showed the kind of take-charge will that his combination of size and athleticism has suggested for two seasons. He drove into a lane crowded with teammates and defenders. He took off near the elbow and floated to the rim where he slammed home a dunk that put Kentucky ahead 46-36.
Poythress wasn’t done. He elevated above everyone for a defensive rebound. He Euro-stepped into the lane for a power shot from the lane.
When Poythress went to the bench for a breather with 8:55 left, the crowd gave him an ovation. More than a few in the announced crowd of 22,634 (almost spot on UK’s home average of 22,645 despite the single-digit temperatures outside) stood and applauded.
Poythress finished with a season-high 16 points, five rebounds and two blocks. It wasn’t as spectacular as the 40-point explosion put on display last season by A&M’s Elston Turner. But it suggested Kentucky had another weapon at its disposal.
A few weeks ago on the WBN podcast, I said that if Poythress could average 10 points a game the rest of the way, the Wildcats would be a Final Four team and could be cutting down the nets. In five SEC games, Poythress is averaging 10.6 points and averaging 61.2% from the field and more importantly 83.3% from the free throw line. With all the talent on the UK roster, Poythress doesn’t have to score 16-20 points a game. Just keep doing what he is doing.
The other trend that has been happening lately has been the disappearance of Willie Cauley – Stein and the emergence of Dakari Johnson. In addition to his scoring woes, Cauley-Stein has become a virtual foul machine, with four fouls in 9 minutes last night. Against Arkansas , he fouled out in just 18 minutes. For most teams in the top 25, this disappearance of one of their starters would be devastating. For Kentucky, it’s “next man up” and it has been Dakari shining.
The seesaw effect with Kentucky’s two 7-footers continued in the 68-51 victory over Texas A&M on Tuesday night. Willie Cauley-Stein continued to struggle, while Dakari Johnson was increasingly productive.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with Willie,” UK Coach John Calipari said after the game. “But he’ll be fine.”
Cauley-Stein had one point and one rebound. That gave him three points and 10 rebounds in his last three games.
Meanwhile, Johnson had seven rebounds, his most since getting seven against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 27. He also scored six points and blocked a career-high three shots in a career-high 24 minutes.
Calipari started Johnson in the second half.
“Dakari played better,” he said, “so I started Dakari. …
“You coach to win. Then you work on egos.”
Not to nit pick a win, but last night’s game was a game where Kentucky got less than stellar games from several of the regulars and still won by 17 over a team that was 12-5 and tied for second in the SEC. Andrew Harrison, after his breakthrough game, went 3-12 and had 8 points. Aaron was in foul trouble and went 1-5 for 6 points. Even though it was not their best games, Julius Randle and James Young were solid. Randle had 13 points and 11 boards and Young tossed in 15 points and had 7 rebounds. It’s interesting to note that Randle has had 7 assists over the last two games.
The big difference was the bench that scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
And this is the beauty of this Wildcat team. UK has the best bench in the nation and as the season goes on, they are going to just get better and better.