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Keith Taylor: Poythress plays ‘like a star’ to lead Kentucky past Alabama in SEC Tourney

NASHVILLE — Kentucky made its postseason debut Friday night and Alex Poythress made it look easy.

The senior forward scored 20 points to lead the Wildcats to an 85-59 win over Alabama in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Kentucky (24-8) advances to the semifinals and will take on Georgia, which defeated South Carolina 65-64 Friday night.

Alex Poythress makes a jump shot in UK's win over Alabama in the SEC Tournament Friday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Alex Poythress makes a jump shot in UK’s win over Alabama in the SEC Tournament Friday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

“I thought Alex was outstanding,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Not just that he made jump shots. He made free throws (and) he was scoring around the basket. He rebounded.”

Following the contest, Poythress was smiling from ear to ear after he left the court in his first postseason appearance in two years and said the confidence was instilled in the team from start to finish in the convincing victory.

“From the jump, everybody on the team was just in a rhythm,” he said. “We were playing great defense and it led to offense. Everybody was confident out there, making shots and just getting into a rhythm and doing what (they could) offensively.”

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 85, Alabama 59

For Poythress, the outing against Alabama was indicative of his first two games against the Crimson Tide. He scored a career-high 25 points in a 77-61 win in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 9 and tallied 14 more on Feb. 23 in Lexington. In three games against Avery Johnson’s squad, Poythress has averaged 19.7 points per game.

“I don’t know what it is, but he always plays great against Alabama,” Kentucky junior guard Dominique Hawkins said. “His confidence was outstanding. I’ve never seen him with that much confidence.”

Johnson didn’t expect Poythress to produce the shots from long range, but wasn’t surprised by his overall performance against his squad.

“He’s a guy, obviously, that’s been hungry to play this year, especially with his injury last year,” the Alabama coach said. “He played like a star tonight, not only inside, but from behind the three-point line.”

Although it appears Poythress has had a chip on his shoulder in games played against Alabama this season, he said his goal is to produce the same consistency in every game.

“Every time I step on the court, I try to have a big game,” he said. “Sometimes it just happens. Sometimes it doesn’t, you know.”

Poythress, on a late-season tear since returning from an undisclosed knee injury, did most of his scoring in unexpected fashion, draining four 3-pointers. Poythress made his first three shots from long range and even did his own version of teammate Jamal Murray’s bow and arrow imitation after making two of those four threes. The celebration after the made threes came as a surprise to Poythress’ teammates.

“We definitely don’t expect Alex to do something like that,” Hawkins said. “He’s supposed to be the mature person on the team, but it’s fun though that he’s doing something like that. It brings out the best in Alex. If he’s knocking down threes, you know he definitely has confidence.”

Poythress missed five straight games in February, but has tallied double figures in four of the last five games and has made 23 of his last 33 shots from the field since his return to the court.

“I’ve actually never seen him shoot like that since I’ve been around,” Hawkins said. “He played excellent tonight and played outstanding for us.”

Poythress also credited his teammates for providing the support needed to defeat the Crimson Tide for a third time this season.

“Everybody was just great offensively,” he said. “We played a complete game today. We’re just looking to build on it (Saturday).”

Game tracker: Kentucky vs. Georgia, SEC Tournament, 3:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com

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