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Keith Taylor: Return of Alex Poythress gives Kentucky a boost in 78-53 win over Alabama


It’s crunch time and Alex Poythress knows it.

After watching Kentucky’s 79-77 overtime loss at Texas A&M last weekend, Poythress couldn’t sit any longer and watch the Wildcats struggle in the post.

 Alex Poythress scored 14 points in UK's win over Alabama Tuesday night (Bill Thiry Photo

Alex Poythress scored 14 points in UK’s win over Alabama Tuesday night (Bill Thiry Photo

The senior forward gave the Wildcats (21-7, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) a spark and a viable presence in the post off the bench, scoring 14 points to help lead Kentucky to a 78-53 win over Alabama Tuesday night.

“It felt good to be out there again,” said Poythress, who missed the previous five games because of an undisclosed knee injury. “I missed basketball. I wasn’t nervous and there was no point in being nervous. It’s just basketball.”

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis said having Poythress back on the court proved to be beneficial, especially against Alabama’s defensive attack.

“Throwing the ball down there tonight to him helped us out a lot, especially when they went zone throwing it to the middle and him getting buckets,” he said.

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 78, Alabama 53

Marcus Lee, who led the Wildcats with 12 rebounds, also liked having Poythress back as a sidekick in the post. Lee said Poythress’ demeanor in practice Monday was a good indicator of what to expect in his first game back on the court.

“He kind of went through practice fearless like nothing had happened and you kind of noticed it as he went through our practice,” Lee said. “It’s always great on having him back. We had to make sure he took the right precautions, and once he felt good, we just let him go.”

The return of Poythress couldn’t have came at a better time for the Wildcats, who were without junior Derek Willis, who suffered an ankle sprain at Texas A&M last weekend.

Freshman Isaac Humphries started in place of Willis and scored four points and grabbed four boards, but it was Poythress who made the biggest scoring contributions in the post.

“I feel if I get the ball on the block I can score,” he said. “I feel like they don’t have to worry about if they throw it in to me. So we gotta have somebody to throw the ball in the post to so why not me? We’re just trying to fall into our roles and we’re trying to group into a team these last couple weeks.”

Poythress made five of six shots from the field in 17 minutes. Although his return was part of a designated timetable, Poythress said the team’s narrow setback to the Aggies provided the inspiration for his return.

“I just felt like I could have helped the team out there a lot,” Poythress said. “There were some mismatches out there that we didn’t guard it well. We didn’t rebound well, but it is what it is. We look forward to our next game. Can’t dwell on the past or anything like that.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari admitted Poythress could have delayed his return to the court until this weekend, but said Poythress knew the Wildcats couldn’t afford back-to-back conference losses with four encounters remaining in the regular season.

“He knew the team needed him,” Calipari said. “He wanted to be on the court and he wanted to play.”

Poythress, who said he “tweaked” his non-surgical knee following Kentucky’s 84-77 loss at Tennessee on Feb. 2, didn’t participate in full-scale workouts until Monday. That’s when Calipari knew his senior forward would return to the court.

“To have one day to practice and to do what he did (was) amazing,” Calipari said. “He looked comfortable. He took himself in and out so he was good. He was good.”

With Poythress out of the lineup, Kentucky won four of five games, a stretch of victories which included blowout wins over Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Despite the success without Poythress, Calipari said the Wildcats need Poythress back in the rotation to be successful in the postseason.

“It’s not better without him,” Calipari said. “When Alex is the best version of himself, he’s as good as any guy his size in the country, but he’s got to come every day and be that guy.”

Now with his collegiate career coming to a close, Poythress seeks a memorable finish.

“We don’t have many more (games) left,” he said. “We want to leave out with a bang, just leave out on top.”

Notes

* Kentucky has scored at least 76 points in 11 straight SEC games for the first time since the 1995-96 season.

* Jamal Murray led UK with 23 points, the seventh consecutive time he’s scored at least 20 points. Murray has made a 3-pointer in 28 straight games, a school record.

* Ulis had 19 points and 10 assists, his sixth double-double of the year. Ulis added three steals.

* Isaiah Briscoe rounded out four players in double figures with 10 points.

* Lee had 12 rebounds, one shy of his career high.

Game tracker: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Saturday, 4 p.m. TV/Radio: CBS Sports, 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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