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January 17, 2013Twenty-two seconds into Kentucky's 75-65 win against Tennessee on Tuesday, Alex Poythress was on the floor, diving for a loose ball.
That's exactly the type of play coach John Calipari is looking for as he tries to extract more intensity from the freshman forward.
"Alex got better," Calipari said. "Really, how about Alex diving on the floor?"
Poythress did it again in the first half, a sign that he's making a concerted effort to do what Calipari wants him to do.
"I'm trying to go hard," Poythress said. "Picking my energy up."
Poythress scored 10 points with eight rebounds in 24 minutes against the Volunteers.
"I think I played decent," Poythress said. "I could have played better at other spots. For the most part, I played all right."
He showed glimpses that he may be getting it while also showing that he's not totally there.
"At the end of the game, he didn't run one time, and he didn't come up with the rebound," Calipari said. "But he made strides."
That's what Calipari's been looking for, and he let Poythress know it by complimenting his play after the game.
"It is nice to hear," Poythress said of the positive feedback. "But I still have a long way to go. I'm just trying to make strides."
Calipari doesn't want things to get out of hand.
He doesn't want his players and their opponents going at each other.
But if it happens, he doesn't want his guys sitting back and taking it, either.
"If I see somebody talking to one of my players and they are not challenging back," Calipari said, "I'm not happy. It's not what I want, but I'm not -- you know, you've got to be a man. This is a man's game and this is a man's league we play in."
He was happy with the way his players responded to physical play - and some verbal back-and-forth - against Tennessee.
"It got a little bit chippy, but that's how every game's going to be," Poythress said. "Everybody's going to try to be physical with us, so we got to try to be physical right back. Don't back down."
If battling on the boards is any indication, Kentucky didn't against the Volunteers.
After getting crushed in the rebounding department in their first two SEC games, the Cats outrebounding the Vols 34-30. They got big contributions from Nerlens Noel (nine), Poythress (eight) and Kyle Wiltjer (five).
Even better, they allowed only seven offensive rebounds out of 34 opportunities, a 78.8 percent success rate that's the fourth-best mark UK has posted all year.
"At this time, we have to grow up and be physical and really hold our own," Noel said.
Mays has green light
Calipari wants Julius Mays to fire away when he's open on the perimeter.
He doesn't want hesitation.
"The thing is, I get mad when he's catching the ball at the 3-point line and the guy is in the lane and he doesn't shoot it," Calipari said.
Mays made 2-of-3 three-pointers against Tennessee.
"It was beautiful," Noel said. "Seeing him shoot that thing, it's a beautiful shot. Most of the time you know it's going in."
It's going in more often now. He's shooting 38.1 percent from outside in his last four games after enduring a 19.4 percent stretch in the six games before that.
Mays also worked inside a bit more against the Volunteers, driving the lane, and Calipari wants him to use his passing skills more often in those situations.
Mays' 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks No. 17 in NCAA Division I.
"So my thing to him is: When you drive, drive to pass," Calipari said. "Don't drive to score, you're not big enough. You're not athletic enough. Shoot the three, one dribble pull-up, or drive to pass."