Nerlens Noel didn't lead Kentucky in points, but he did lead the Wildcats in effort.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Alex Poythress did not play a perfect game when Kentucky dispatched Lafayette, 101-49, Friday night in Rupp Arena. He took 10 shots. He made nine. At times, Poythress was absurdly aggressive. Reasonable observers could mistake him for a junior, although this was his third college game.
That one miss came on the first shot Poythress attempted in the second half, inches from the rim. But missing one gimme is not why UK coach John Calipari spent much of the evening barking at Poythress.
What upset Calipari?
That Poythress did not play the game with the boundless enthusiasm of another UK freshman – center Nerlens Noel.
Start with the rebounds that Poythress did not collect. The kid is built as if he could play defensive end for Nick Saban. Calipari believes that Poythress should claim every rebound. He did not. Poythress finished with five, one in the first half.
Not good enough for Calipari.
Calipari also believes that the man Poythress guards should never score, especially when the man is smaller, slower and weaker, as the Lafayette players certainly were. Several Lafayette players did score against Poythress.
Not good enough.
"You think they (his freshmen) have been coached this way?" Calipari asked the fans that remained courtside for his post-game radio show. "Nooo.
"They're having to adjust. You think they're used to being told they don't poop ice cream?"
Calipari was so hyper after the game that he picked 10 fans out of the crowd and invited them to tour UK's remodeled locker room with him.
Somebody asked Poythress if he was surprised his coach was criticizing him on a night that he scored 22 points and missed one shot. Noel, Calipari's gold standard Friday, scored only 15 with seven rebounds. But he contributed four steals and bounced his narrow body off the floor.
"No," Poythress said. "It just means that he sees more out of me and thinks that I can be better than I am."
That is the Calipari way. He strokes his guys as well as any coach in the business. But he is even better at scolding than he is as stroking. Some coaches get on their players, and then their players pout. The world hasn't seen much of that from Calipari's players at Kentucky.
The coach fusses at them and they seem to listen – and then play harder. After the game, Poythress looked as if he wanted to report to the practice gym. He appeared able to focus on the content of the message instead of worrying about the animated way the coach delivered it. Not everybody can do that.
"I want him to be the best version of him," Calipari said. "Not just play good. ‘You're better than this. You can do more than this. Why won't you? It's hard.' I know it's hard."
Playing hard was a bigger issue for Kentucky than playing without Ryan Harrow, the guy who is supposed to fill the signature position in a Calipari offense – point guard.
Even without Harrow, the UK offense ran at high octane. The Wildcats made 64.5 percent of their field-goal attempts. They were 11 of 19 from the three-point line, pushing their season percentage to 50 percent (21-for-42) on threes.
Kyle Wiltjer was especially unguardable from the perimeter, making seven of 11 threes, six on direct passes from Julius Mays. Hmmm. Mays came to Kentucky from Wright State with the reputation of being strictly a shooter.
That reputation appears to be misleading. Mays finished with 10 assists and no turnovers. The rest of the team was not nearly as efficient with the ball, turning it over 10 times with only 13 assists.
Kentucky overwhelmed the Leopards the way the Wildcats figure to overwhelm Morehead State (Wednesday) and Long Island (Friday) next week. Kentucky does not figure to be legitimately tested again until Nov. 29 when the Wildcats travel to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
By then Harrow should be back. Harrow did not play against Lafayette, just as he did not play in the Wildcats' loss to Duke in Atlanta Tuesday.
How ill is Harrow?
He was not on the bench Friday. Calipari tried to scrub away concerns that his point guard will miss extended time. He said Harrow has been working with UK's conditioning personnel and that "hopefully," Harrow returns to practice Sunday.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Calipari said.
The coach seemed exhilarated at the prospect of demanding that work.