LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Alex Poythress was hungry to play after a two-week absence because of a right knee injury. Kentucky needed a healthy body to fill a manpower void.
Poythress’ return ended up better than expected and provided a needed remedy for the 16th-ranked Wildcats in a 78-53 rout of Alabama on Tuesday night.
Sidelined for five games with the injury, the senior forward came off the bench to score 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes. Poythress complemented Jamal Murray’s 23 points, while Tyler Ulis added 19 points and 10 assists as Kentucky pulled away from the Crimson Tide.
Not bad for Poythress’ second day back on the job.
“It felt good to be out there again,” said Poythress, who returned to practice on Monday. “I missed basketball. I wasn’t nervous and there was no point in being nervous. It’s just basketball.”
Poythress helped the Wildcats (21-7, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) bounce back from Saturday’s 79-77 overtime loss at Texas A&M and provide some depth for a Kentucky squad that played without starting forward Derek Willis, who sprained his right ankle against the Aggies. Willis sat on the bench with a boot on his foot, and Kentucky coach John Calipari gave no timetable on his return.
Poythress’ comeback arrived right on time.
“He could have stayed out a couple of more days,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Poythress. “He knew the team needed him.”
Isaiah Briscoe scored 10 points and Marcus Lee grabbed 12 rebounds for the Wildcats, who limited the Crimson Tide (16-11, 7-8) to 35 percent shooting and handed them a second straight loss. Kentucky outscored Alabama 40-22 inside, outrebounded the Crimson Tide 41-29 and made 22 of 28 free throws.
Retin Obasohan made nine of 13 shots to score 29 points for the Crimson Tide, who struggled to find offense besides their senior guard. Reserves Justin Coleman and Brandon Austin had eight and six points, respectively, for Alabama, which fell steadily behind in the second half.
“Overall, we just didn’t have the energy or confidence we had in SEC play,” first-year Alabama coach Avery Johnson said after his team’s second straight loss. “We just didn’t have it. This was probably our worst performance in the SEC.”
The Wildcats weren’t always sharp but steadily put things together thanks to the floor leadership of Ulis, whose fifth game of at least 10 assists broke a school record shared by three players — most recently John Wall in 2009-10.
“I didn’t shoot it as well as I wanted to and I missed a couple of free throws,” said Ulis, who was five of 13 from the field but nine of 11 from the free throw line. “Other than that, I played all right overall.”
Isaac Humphries had four points and four rebounds in his first start as Kentucky maintained its one-game conference lead and swept Alabama.
The Wildcats shot 46 percent from the field, including 53 percent in the second half.
ALL IS FORGIVEN
Humphries’ technical foul for spiking the ball cost Kentucky the game against the Aggies, and he was apologetic afterward for his emotional gaffe. Teammates and Calipari rallied around him, and Wildcats fans greeted the 17-year-old Australian with loud cheers as he was introduced.
“I knew he would get that kind of ovation, because that’s who our fans are,” Calipari said.
Alabama: Made just 1 of 16 shots during one first-half stretch. …. The Crimson Tide fell to 4-3 against ranked teams this season. … Donta Hall grabbed eight rebounds.
Kentucky: Poythress finished with one rebound. .. Ulis has recorded double-digit assists in four of six games.
Alabama hosts Auburn on Saturday.
Kentucky visits Vanderbilt on Saturday.