January 21, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Alex Poythress is more focused on helping Kentucky finish games strong no matter how he’s used, and the sophomore reserve forward emphatically proved it against Texas A&M.
Poythress scored a season-high 16 points as No. 14 Kentucky routed the Aggies 68-51 on Tuesday night.
Poythress and 7-foot freshman Dakari Johnson eagerly picked up the slack inside for Kentucky (14-4, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) with struggling 7-foot pivot man Willie Cauley-Stein limited by foul trouble. Poythress worked inside for baskets and got to the free throw line, hitting five straight during his 7-0 run that put the Wildcats up 44-33 with 14 1/2 minutes remaining.
He was 4 of 7 from the field and had five rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes.
“All of his hard work, extra work, and how he has been practicing is paying off,” freshman forward Julius Randle said. “I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
The game was Poythress’ third double-digit scoring effort in his past five outings, demonstrating his new comfort zone coming off the bench after starting 31 of 33 games as a freshman. Though he’s still trying to find a rhythm with his jumper, his energy and aggression have definitely improved after he passed on the NBA draft.
There’s certainly no doubting Poythress’ dedication and mindset.
“You get what you give,” Poythress said. “If you don’t work hard, bad things will happen. If you do work hard, good things will happen.”
Johnson added seven rebounds, six points and a career-high three blocks as the Wildcats outrebounded the Aggies 42-24 and were nearly even with them in the paint (30-32). The rebounding was a huge improvement for Kentucky after being dominated on the glass in Saturday’s win over Tennessee.
James Young added 15 points and seven rebounds while Randle had 13 points with 11 rebounds for Kentucky which shot 44 percent (22 of 50) from the field and was 18 of 27 at the free throw line. The Wildcats’ bench outscored the Aggies 25-13 and 15-4 in second-chance points.
They also committed more turnovers than Texas A&M (15-11) but offset those mistakes with solid play in other areas, with Poythress providing a big boost off the bench.
“We got (the lead) to 11 points because of him,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Poythress. “Then we made a play or two and all of a sudden it was 16, 17 points but a lot of it was just him.”
Alex Caruso and Davonte Fitzgerald had 12 points each for Texas A&M (12-6, 3-2), which shot 37 percent in losing its second straight.
Texas A&M was looking to get back on track after having its 3-0 SEC start halted in an 81-72 overtime loss at Mississippi State. That quest never got started as the Aggies were outhustled throughout despite finishing with the slight edge in inside scoring.
Fouls were a factor as leading scorer Jamal Jones picked up three in the first half and was limited to eight points, ending a three-game stretch with 22 or more points.
“Just how physical they are gave us a lot of problems scoring,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. “It seemed like when they got to the rim, they got to the free throw line and finished. When we got to the rim, they were blocking shots and changing our shots.”
Kentucky’s troubling habit of starting slow and having to come from behind ended against Texas A&M, as the Wildcats quickly took an 11-5 lead behind two 3-pointers by Andrew Harrison and another from his twin brother Aaron.
Young and Jarrod Polson added long-range baskets to help build a 34-27 halftime lead for the Wildcats, who also outrebounded the Aggies 19-14 through 20 minutes. While Texas A&M’s 42 percent shooting was slightly better than Kentucky (40 percent), its offensive energy was lacking with Jones in foul trouble.
Putting away Texas A&M in the second half took some time, but Kentucky built a 46-36 lead on Poythress’ flying one-handed dunk and eventually stretched the margin to 21 with 5 minutes remaining.
“It felt good,” Poythress said of his dunk. “It felt like we were slowing down a bit. We needed something to get us going.”