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Notebook: Individual workouts paying dividends quickly for Poythress

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Alex Poythress had 16 points and five rebounds in a win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Alex Poythress had 16 points and five rebounds in a win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After he began working individually with Alex Poythress, John Calipari cautioned that results might not come overnight. Coach Cal said it could take weeks before the confidence Poythress is building in himself and the confidence his coach is building in him are plain to see.

It turns out, however, that fans didn't need to wait long to see Poythress begin to tap into his inner "beast" again. The effort wasn't without occasional lapses, but Poythress much more closely resembled the player his coaches and teammates know he can be.

"He at least played with some energy," Calipari said. "You could see it. He ran the floor hard. You could see it."

Poythress had 16 points and five rebounds in Kentucky's 90-38 win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday night. He got to the line eight times, tying for the second-most of his UK career, while showing more willingness to use his big, athletic frame to mix it up. That more than anything else is why his teammates applauded him in the postgame locker room.

"You've seen a lot of improvement in him," guard Julius Mays said. "Coach has been spending a lot of time with him just working on the areas he needs to work on building his confidence back up. He was in a slump...and it was more mental than anything, not having confidence in himself. For him to come out tonight, he played real well defensively and offensively and hopefully he just builds on it."

On offense, perhaps the defining play for the Poythress everyone wants to see is the dunk. Entering the game against EMU, Poythress had just one dunk in his previous three outings and more than 111 minutes of game time (and two-and-half weeks of calendar time) had passed since his last throw down. The first half went by without a Poythress slam, but within 69 seconds of the second, he had two.

"It feels good because you know everybody wants to get better and you just want to help your team win," Poythress said.

Poythress can't quite put his finger on the reason for his recent inconsistency, but he's certainly glad to have turned in one of his most complete efforts of the season. He and Calipari are going to work together individually once again on Thursday and leading up to next week's Southeastern Conference opener against Vanderbilt with an eye on making that performance the rule rather than the exception.

"It's been a long way, but I've still got a long way to go," Poythress said. "I'm still trying to improve."

Noel, Cauley-Stein leading Cats' rebounding surge

For the first time this season, UK big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein grabbed double-digit rebounds in the same game on Wednesday. They combined for 24 of UK's 52 total rebounds as the Cats held a season-high +25 margin on the glass. The Cats also had their second-highest totals of the season in defensive rebounding percentage (83.0) and offensive rebounding percentage (40.6).

Though the work on boards was unprecedented, it's far from surprising given recent trends.

To begin the season, rebounding was one of the areas of greatest concern for this team. Through six games, UK's opponents were grabbing as many rebounds per game (34.0) as the Cats themselves. To make matters worse, all three of Kentucky's opponents from so-called power conferences (Maryland, Duke and Notre Dame) had won the battle on the glass, twice leading to losses.

Over the last seven games, the Cats have completely flipped that on its head.

During that stretch, UK is outrebounding its opponents, 44.9-34.1. The Cats have won the rebounding battle in all seven games and never by a margin of less than three. Kentucky has had 40 or more rebounds in six of its last seven games after grabbing that many just once over the first six.

If you're searching for the reason, look no further than Noel and Cauley-Stein.

Through six games, the two freshmen were averaging a combined 12.1 rebounds, 8.3 for Noel and just 3.8 for Cauley-Stein. Over their last seven, they are averaging a combined 17.8 boards, 10.1 for Noel and 7.7 for Cauley-Stein.

No wonder Coach Cal likes the big lineup.

Mays happy to shake off shooting slump

Over his last four games, Mays had hit just two 3s in 19 attempts. However, he had played no fewer than 30 minutes in any of those games because of all the other things he does well.

"Even Julius missing shots, he doesn't hurt your team," Calipari said. "He just doesn't make shots.  So there is no like, not only is he not making the shot, he's not guarding, he's turning over."

Still, with Mays' reputation as a shooter - he hit better than 40 percent from beyond the arc last season at Wright State - it wasn't easy to see so many of attempts go awry. That made the three 3s he made in seven attempts that much sweeter.

"I've been down on myself a little lately because I haven't been hitting shots, so to see some go in felt good," Mays said. "It's not the first slump I've been in, so the only way to come out of it is to keep shooting."

In the end though, hitting shots isn't Mays' top priority.

"I don't care if I score two points as long as we win and as long as we have fun doing it," Mays said. "I don't care about scoring, it's not what I came here for, to get numbers. I came here to win."

Kidd-Gilchrist makes Rupp return
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops and Hunger Games star and avid UK fan Josh Hutcherson were courtside for UK's win on Wednesday night, but neither was the celebrity that turned the most heads.

Former UK star and current Charlotte Bobcat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned to Rupp Arena for a regular-season game for the first time since his home finale last season, serving as the honorary "Y" in the second-half cheer. He seemed to enjoy himself just much as fans enjoyed seeing him.

Kidd-Gilchrist's visit came as a surprise. His Bobcats had a few days between a New Year's Eve win over Chicago and a game Friday against Cleveland, so he decided to make a quick trip to his second home in Lexington after practice earlier on Wednesday.

"He's such a great kid," Calipari said. "He knew that there was a plane coming from Charlotte. He just said, 'Hey, can I jump on it?' "

Kidd-Gilchrist sat next to Calipari's family during the game, but spent his time before tip giving out hugs and handshakes and catching up. He also made his way back to the newly-completed Rupp locker room, which he saw for the first time. He was a bit jealous.

"He was really, really angry when he saw the locker room," Calipari said. "He was smoking. He walked in my office, and he said, 'This is BS. What we had last year. Look at this.' So he did it in fun... but it was good to see him."

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