LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky fans got another glimpse Tuesday of the Alex Poythress that John Calipari has been raving about during the Wildcats’ recent practice sessions.
The sophomore forward came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points, grab five rebounds and block two shots in Kentucky’s 68-51 win over Texas A&M at Rupp Arena. He scored nine of his points during the key run of the game which saw the Cats turn a four-point lead into a 10-point cushion midway through the second half.
“I'm so proud of Alex, how he played,” Calipari said. “… What he's been able to do in practice, now you're all starting to see it.”
The Tennessee native is averaging 10.6 points per game since conference play began and has helped pick up the slack with fellow sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein slumping. The Cats’ starting center had just one point and one rebound in nine foul-plagued minutes against the Aggies, but Poythress helped compensate.
“He was dominant, you know, physically,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “I’m not surprised. He’s a really good player, and he’s one of their more upper-class guys, you know, so he played like it. I thought he and (Julius) Randle were just physical, much more so than we were.”
No. 14 Kentucky (13-4, 3-1 SEC) also got 15 points and seven rebounds from freshman guard James Young and the 11th double-double of the season from Randle (13 points, 11 rebounds) in a balanced attack.
Just three days after being beaten badly in the rebound column by Tennessee, the Cats bounced back with a dominant 42-24 advantage on the glass against the Aggies. They outscored A&M 15-4 in second-chance points.
In addition to Randle and Young’s big contributions, UK also got eight rebounds from starting point guard Andrew Harrison and seven from reserve center Dakari Johnson.
But it was Poythress who stole the spotlight. Calipari has described his player’s transformation as “owning your performance.”
“It means if you put in the extra work, good things will happen to good people,” Poythress said. “You get what you give. If you don’t work hard, bad things will happen. If you do work hard, good things will happen.”
“It’s amazing,” UK freshman forward Julius Randle said of Poythress’s recent play. “All of his hard work, extra work, and how he has been practicing is paying off. I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
Kentucky held a modest 34-27 lead at the half, thanks in part to taking 15 of its 27 field goal attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. It remained close until Poythress’s flurry of points in the second half that included a massive one-handed dunk which brought the crowd of 22,634 to its feet as well as converting a tough drive while absorbing a hard foul.
Moments later, Kentucky went on a 21-7 run to put the game away.
The Cats held Texas A&M (12-6, 3-2 SEC) to 37 percent shooting from the floor. Alex Caruso and Davonte Fitzgerald led the Aggies with 12 points apiece.
“Getting better,” Calipari said. “I'm challenging them. I'm on them. Trying to drag them faster, trying to stay focused on, instead of results, it's all where we're trying to take this. Instead of the (final) results, let's work on just the process, and that's what we're doing.”
• Kentucky is now 33-0 under Calipari when limiting the opponent to 55 or fewer points.
• The Wildcats had a plus-22 margin when Dakari Johnson was on the floor, the highest +/- mark on the team.
• UK is 8-0 this season when the Wildcats win bench points. The Cats outscored the Aggies 25-13 off the bench.
• Kentucky concludes its three-game homestand Saturday against Georgia. Game time is 1:30 p.m. ET and will be aired on SEC TV.