Wildcats Roll in 52-Point Victory Over Eastern Michigan
This story appears courtesy of RCN partner KY Forward and is written by Jon Hale.
With the non-conference portion of the schedule finished, UK head coach John Calipari is finally starting to see the progress in his team he had hoped for.
“Much better,” Calipari said of his team’s play in a 90-38 win versus Eastern Michigan. “But I’m going to tell you, it’s going to be a process.”
UK used a suffocating defense to force 12 Eastern Michigan turnovers in the first half and scored 13 points off those miscues. A 20-0 run from the 2:15 mark in the first half to the 13:39 mark in the second half put the game out of reach for good.
The Wildcats shot 57.1 percent from the field in the second half and make six threes to turn the game into a full-on rout.
“We just had a real good game today,” said sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow. “We didn’t take too many times off. It was a 40 minute game, basically.”
Perhaps the most important development for UK was the improved play of freshman forward Alex Poythress, who Calipari had worked with in extra one-on-one practice time since his subpar performance versus Louisville.
Poythress scored 16 points on five of eight shooting and grabbed five rebounds in the game. After making just two of his six free throw attempts versus Louisville, Poythress converted six of eight free throws versus Eastern Michigan.
“He at least played with some energy,” Calipari said. “You could see it. He ran the floor hard. You could see it.”
Asked what it meant to him that so many of his teammates had pointed to his improvement as a key in the team reaching it’s goals, Poythress chose to point the attention elsewhere.
“It’s a very big compliment,” he said. “Everybody is a big piece of the puzzle. Not one person is bigger than the others. Everyone is equally important in this thing that we’re trying to accomplish.”
Not showing much emotion even after a performance that earned praise from his coach, is not rare for Poythress.
According to senior guard Julius Mays, his teammates are constantly working to get him to smile on the court.
“He’s the only guy I know that will dunk on somebody then just run back down the court with his head down,” Mays said. “We’re always trying to get a big smile out of him or at least get him to push us something.
“I’m on him all the time about, ‘Be excited, show that you’re happy to be here, that you love playing basketball, not like the world is about to end tomorrow.’”
Poythress was joined by four other Wildcats in double figures Wednesday.
Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer led the team with 17 points. Harrow added 14 points, eight assists and four steals. Mays broke out of a long shooting slump with 13 points.
Freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein posted his second career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in his second start of the season.
Cauley-Stein’s improved play has Calipari planning to use the current rotation — with Harrow, freshman guard Archie Goodwin, Poythress, Cauley-Stein and freshman forward Nerlens Noel starting and Mays and Wiltjer coming off the bench — for the foreseeable future.
“Having (Mays) and Kyle come off the bench, you have scoring right away when you go to it off the bench,” Calipari said. “You’ve got a very, very big team on the court that can do some stuff.”
The big lineup also allowed Calipari to use more full-court pressure defense due to Cauley-Stein’s length and ability to guard out on the floor.
The Wildcats forced 19 turnovers in the game, tallied nine steals and held Eastern Michigan to 24.2 percent (15-62) shooting.
“Partly, it’s how we wanted to play this team,” Calipari said of the press. “I like Willie up there. It’s tough when you’ve got a seven-footer running at you now.”
Settling on a rotation is one more positive step for Calipari to get his team where he wants it to be.
The continued progress of Poythress is another.
Calipari is OK with waiting as long as he eventually gets there.
“It’s still going to be weeks away,” Calipari said. “Maybe a month away. If he makes it, I’m OK if it’s a month away. Because at the end of the day, with him and the other guys, I like my team. We’ll be fine.”
Photo: Ryan Harrow drives against Eastern Michigan/Jon Hale