Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy saw Kentucky's Alex Poythress quite a bit in high school, and Kennedy knew Poythress could break out, even if he hasn't much as a sophomore for the Wildcats.
So Kennedy wasn't surprised when the No. 13 Wildcats' sixth man dominated the second half and coaxed enough life out of a staid Kentucky team to lead it to a 68-51 win over the Aggies on Tuesday.
"He was dominant physically," Kennedy said of Poythress. "I'm not surprised. He's a really good player and one of their more upper-class guys. He played like it. I thought him and Randle were just physical, and much more so than we were."
Kentucky (14-4, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) fell into a slow pace that favored Texas A&M's style, and the Wildcats were missing shots and playing with less intensity on defense than they displayed on their way to a 34-27 halftime lead.
The Aggies (12-6, 3-2) scored back-to-back baskets to get within 37-33 with 16:55 to play. It was the tightest margin since early in the first half, and the 22,634 in attendance at Rupp Arena were all but silent.
But then Poythress, the Wildcats' top reserve after starting at small forward last year as a freshman, did exactly what coach John Calipari has asked him to do all season: energize the game. He took the ball right at the Aggies' interior defense and drew two fouls in a row, hitting all four free throws.
He then produced a three-point play and capped his personal run with a loud, one-handed dunk after taking off outside the paint on the left side.
"He made plays like, 'How did he make that play?' And that's how we got a little gap," Calipari said of Poythress. "We got to 11 (points) because of him. Then we made a play or two, and all of a sudden it was 16 or 17, but a lot of it was just him."
Poythress finished with a game-high 16 points after having two at halftime. Guard James Young added 15 points for Kentucky, and forward Julius Randle added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Guard Alex Caruso and forward Davonte Fitzgerald each scored 12 points for the Aggies. Texas A&M leading scorer, forward Jamal Jones, had three fouls in the first half and finished with eight points.
"Foul trouble obviously hurt us a lot," Caruso said. "We didn't have a lot of key guys out there when we needed them. We can't use that as an excuse, but I think their size and their athleticism wore us down, and we can't allow that to happen."
The Wildcats won the opening tip, and after working the possession for 21 seconds, found point guard Andrew Harrison to hit a 3-pointer to open the game. Harrison hit another 3-pointer, Young hit a 17-foot jumper in transition, and guard Aaron Harrison added another trey to give the Wildcats an 11-5 lead with 17:20 left.
Instead of calling timeout with the near-capacity Rupp Arena crowd roaring, Aggies coach Billy Kennedy let the game play itself out. As a result, Texas A&M pulled the handbrake and slowed the game to its favored slow pace.
Kentucky was 4-for-6 from the floor over the first 2:40 of the game, and it was 2-for-6 over the next six minutes as the Wildcats fell into Texas A&M's preferred pace: dirge.
Reserve guard Jarrod Polson hit a 3-pointer with 3:09 left to give the Wildcats their first double-digit lead of the half, but Fitzgerald quickly answered with a two to get the margin back to eight.
When Texas A&M worked its way down to four points at 37-33, it was the closest it had been since the score was 18-15 in the first half. Then Poythress woke up and brought the Wildcats with him.
"He's just getting better every game and breaking through," forward Julius Randle said of his teammate. "We all see the work he puts in. Just to finally see him break through and play great, I couldn't be more happy for him. It's just really exciting because if he does that, we know our team goes to another level."
NOTES: When Texas A&M visited Rupp Arena last January, the Aggies earned an 83-71 win. Senior G Elston Turner scored 40 points for Texas A&M in that game, John Calipari's only conference loss at home as the Wildcats' coach. Calipari is now 35-1 at home in SEC play following Tuesday's win. ... Kentucky missed its first two free throws and went 18-for-27 from the line after hitting 23 of 24 in Saturday's 74-66 win over Tennessee. Texas A&M made just 11 of 21 foul shots Tuesday.