Cats: Up Again Where They Belong?

Alex Poythress was a high scorer with 25 points versus Alabama. Photos by Victoria Graff | Contributing Photographer

Alex Poythress was a high scorer with 25 points versus Alabama. Photo by Victoria Graff | Contributing Photographer

Clearly, regarding this UK team, what you wrote last week, you regret this week.

All those nits you picked…

Against Alabama, “Alex the Beast” returned. Alex Poythress established his place on the baseline and dominated: dunking and driving and then working with Tyler Ulis on spectacular bounce-pass pick-and-rolls against the ’Bama trap, over and over and over.

Best of all, his soft shooting touch became evident again – both in the lane and on the line. If that truly is a confidence thing, his has to be sky-high coming off this game.

Speaking of confidence, Jamal Murray lacks none! For once, he didn’t disappear. He started fast. At one point in the first half, he and Poythress had all UK’s points. And he finished fast. When Alabama came on one of those oh-no-not-again rallies, cutting the Kentucky lead to four midway in the second half, Murray was all over the floor, playing solid defense and running his half of the two-guard offense. If he didn’t score during the stretch, it’s because he didn’t have to. He let the game come to him.

Murray is on pace to be Kentucky’s best scorer since Brandon Knight five years ago.

Isaiah Briscoe showed what he can contribute when he isn’t getting trapped along the baseline or bottled up underneath. It was his short-range jump shots that got him back into the offensive flow, reminding Big Blue Nation why Briscoe was such an important recruit.

I will admit that I’d taken to cringing every time he got the ball. I had stopped cringing by the end of this game, but the free throw line has clearly gotten into his head.

Marcus Lee came to play. He snared 11 rebounds, though he infuriated his coach by tossing up shots from underneath rather than going strong for dunks. Calipari knows that, for Lee, a shot is a sometimes thing, perhaps a 33 percent conversion rate. A dunk is nearly 100 percent.

The free throw line has gotten into Lee’s head, too. Not sure why someone isn’t taking him aside and pointing out that his shot-put style from the shoulder is producing rim-clanking projectiles. Soft and centered with bended knees and plenty of backspin would be so much more productive.

As it is, in the closing minutes of a tight game, Lee and Briscoe are a liability on the court, though they’re also a liability on the bench.

And then there’s Ulis. After scoring 64 points in his last three games, the point guard’s scoring was down, his shooting off, against Alabama. He kept touching his elbow, which scares BBN as much as Poythress limping off the court at halftime.

But he’s so locked into the game, the flow, where everyone is, what everyone can do: not only finding Poythress on the baseline but also Murray coming off ball screens when he was so hot in the first half, and Briscoe off perimeter picks throughout the second half.

Alabama coach Avery Johnson told the media he thinks Ulis should turn pro – like now! He doesn’t want to have to play him again. Neither does any SEC coach.

And has anyone noticed the increased minutes and production of Mychal Mulder? Eight points in the last two games, a couple of threes and 12 rebounds!

But this isn’t the kind of Kentucky team where you’d better make dinner reservations in Houston in early April. As sky-high as Big Blue Nation gets after a win like this one, that’s as low as it might be after the next game down the road, or South Carolina or Florida, or any one any time, actually.

I hated reading comments like “maybe this game will turn Briscoe’s season around…” and “Muldar could become the team’s significant X-factor.” We’re only nine weeks into the season, 15 games, and there have already been too many “turn the season around” moments or “maybe he’s the guy” predictions.

Still, there were so many hinges loose at LSU. So many things that needed to be corrected. If the Cats had come out and checked off the boxes

Fight on the boards

Battle through screens

Get all the loose balls

Rebound with both hands

Etc.

then it would have all seemed kind of mechanical.

But to play the way they did for 40 minutes, to fight off Alabama’s rushes, rebound strongly, run the court, stay tight on the Tide’s three-point shooters – yeah, go ahead, make those Houston dinner reservations.

Just make sure your deposit is refundable. VT