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Appreciating Poythress as Cats Beat A&M at Rupp, 68-51

This article appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

Alex Poythress, who has found new life as of late, had perhaps his finest moment as a Wildcat on Tuesday night. The sophomore forward had 14 points in the second half, nine of which came all in a row to save a sputtering Kentucky team and propel it to a 68-51 win over Texas A&M on Tuesday.

Poythress only had two points in the first half, but he finished with 16 and four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.

The Wildcats (14-4, 4-1) were holding on to a 37-33 lead in the second half when Poythress went on his personal spree. He hit four straight free throws, converted a three-point play and then had his biggest single play, a gliding one-handed slam to give Kentucky a 46-36 lead with 12:54 to play.

Kentucky took a step back from the free-throw line after Saturday’s 23-of-24 performance against Tennessee. The Wildcats missed their first two attempts Tuesday—the beginning of one of Willie Cauley-Stein’s most forgettable career games—and finished 18 of 27 from the foul line.

Appreciating Alex Poythress's best game and the nearly impossible feats therein

Trying to relate to basketball players is not recommended. Of all the humans on Earth, those you watch play basketball any given night—the example at hand would be in Kentucky’s 68-51 win over Texas A&M on Tuesday—are unlike most.

Almost no people on the planet can do what, say, Alex Poythress did in one second-half sequence, which starts at 1:55 in the video above.

Poythress was standing still and received a pass, took four steps—right, left, right, left—and jumped. When he hit the apex of his jump, it almost seemed like he suspended his fall for just a moment, gliding a little bit. The angle of the highlight above hardly does it justice, nor does it do justice to the fact that he starts to turn his hand over, as if he changed his mind from finger roll to one-handed slam in mid-flight.

That slam was the ninth team point in a row Poythress had scored for Kentucky, part of a 9-2 personal run he had pieced together once the Aggies had forced their way back into the game at 37-33. Poythress was at the peak of his game Tuesday night, one of the best games he’s had at Kentucky even if the numbers didn’t quite line up with some of his flashier games as a freshman, and that dunk was the top moment.

In interviews after the game, he remained modest about the act he had done that almost nobody on Earth could ever do even once. Modest was his word. But for him, and for everyone on any basketball court who ever does crazy things, occurrences such as his pardoning of gravity for a split-second are so commonplace, bored seemed a more apt way to describe his emotion as he relived the moment in front of reporters.

He smiled a little bit in visualizing the moment, but that’s all he allowed.

“I mean, I guess I’m blessed with great athleticism and I guess I had good genes growing up,” he said when asked if he understands how difficult it is for the rest of the human population to understand the things he can do with his body, and then how funny it is to see him nonplussed about it.

His teammates, peers of Poythress in their near inhuman experience living human lives every day, were a bit more effusive when speaking on Poythress. Julius Randle was. Randle is at the forefront of Kentucky basketball players to have done any number of inexplicable physical feats during games, so he knows what it’s like.

“He’s just getting better every game and breaking through,” Randle said. “We all see the work he puts in. Just to finally see him break through and play great, I couldn’t be more happy for him. It’s just really exciting because if he does that, we know our team goes to another level.”

John Calipari has been so eager to sing Poythress’ praises as of late, he often does so out of turn, unprompted. Not that Calipari is any stranger to fielding a question and then going in a totally different direction with whatever it is he wants to talk about; but he’ll tie any and every lesson he can back in to how hard Poythress has practiced over the past few weeks. He took Willie Cauley-Stein’s recent struggles—his one-point, no-block four-foul performance Tuesday put him somewhere between Mariana Trench and the core of the earth—and related them back to Poythress.

Even as physically unique as Poythress is, he’s always been that. When he was struggling as much as he was last season and even at times as a sophomore, he’s always been the same person, the same 6-8 biological anomaly that does things regularly the rest of us can only appreciate from the distance that comes with accepting the things we’ll never do.

“This sport is mental as much as anything else,” Calipari said. “It’s like Alex right now. Mentally, Alex thinks he’s going to kill you, so he will.”

Photo: Alex Poythress/KY Forward