LEXINGTON - John Calipari couldn't say enough about Alex Poythress following Kentucky's 75-70 triumph over LSU on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Calipari had plenty of reasons to gloat after Poythress scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, securing his fourth double-digit outing in the team's past five games. Poythress had just six points in the Wildcats' 59-55 loss at Alabama last week, but made a strong recovery with a dominating performance against the Tigers.
“I was so proud of Alex, I can't begin to tell you,” Calipari said afterward. “He's has been basically in his mind, been tortured to play hard and compete.”
Poythress stopped short of calling his experience a “torture” but admitted it's been an adjustment from high school to collegiate ranks.
“It is tough,” he said. “It doesn't feel like torture but it's just a long process. Everybody (learns) at different speeds and I'm just trying to make the best of it. I just try to work hard every game. Playing hard according to me and playing hard for coach Cal is whole different level. He expects more out of you and I'm just trying to make the coaches happy, trying to make the the right plays and help my teammates, because I'm playing for them too.
Calipari said Poythress is starting to “get it” and it showed against the Tigers.
“I was just trying to be more assertive in the game, trying to make plays for my teammates and make tough rebounds and stuff like that,” he said. “I just tried to play basketball today and wanted to have fun, play basketball the way I'm used to playing. It's not more of an effort, you really just do it. You know, when you're playing hard, it just comes off (easier) really.”
Poythress began the season began the season with a bang, scoring 20 or more points but failed top keep up the pace, scoring single digits in four of Kentucky's previous nine games, including seven in a loss to Louisville. Poythress said his progression is a “process” that occurs on a daily basis.
“I'm just trying my best to do it every game,” he said. “Hopefully it will transition on the court.”
In addition to his post moves, Poythress made three of four free throws after LSU pulled within three with three minutes remaining and drained two more with one second remaining for the final margin. Poythress wasn't surprised by the Tigers' late surge after trailing by 15 in the opening half.
“They made a couple of tough shots at the end of the game that put them closer and they were contested shots,” he said. “We didn't panic. We executed on offense and try to contain them on defense.”
Despite his “stone face” appearance at times, Poythress said the roller coaster ride on and on and off the court “is part of basketball.”
“I wouldn't know why (playing basketball) wouldn't be fun,” he said. “I've been playing it forever. I enjoy being out there making plays and just playing basketball. It's always been fun for me. People shouldn't wonder (if I don't enjoy playing). I love playing basketball and it's my favorite sport and I've been playing it since I was a young pup. I love this sport.”
Poythress was smiling as he walked off the court after the Wildcats avoided a third conference letdown. Calipari also gave Poythress a hug after the contest and simply wants the rest of his team to follow the lead set by his freshman forward and Nerlens Noel.
“I'm so ecstatic for Alex,” Calipari said. “Now we have to get some other guys to catch up.”