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January 10, 2013Alex Poythress will be facing his past, and his past decisions, on Thursday.
The Clarksville, Tenn. native chose Kentucky over Vanderbilt coming out of high school.
Those two teams meet in the Wildcats' SEC opener Thursday at 9 p.m.
"It's going to be exciting, because it is so close to home," Poythress said.
He will have family and possibly friends there, although he didn't know how many as of Wednesday afternoon.
Poythress said that, despite the homecoming component to the game, he will treat it the same as any other.
"Knowing him, he probably does look at it like a regular game," Archie Goodwin said, "because he doesn't really show emotion at a lot of things."
If that happens to change, and Poythress does show emotion against his second-choice school, coach John Calipari isn't worried.
"If it's an effort thing, he can do as much as he wants," Calipari said. "Just go until you pass out."
While Poythress said that Vanderbilt was a "family-oriented school" with good academics and coaches, he chose Kentucky because it was a better fit.
"I thought I could get better here, progress as a player, maybe try to reach my dreams here," Poythress said.
He has been progressing. Calipari said Poythress been receptive of his messages in individual workouts, although there is still room to grow. Calipari said Poythress is still learning how to play through fatigue, and a high-intensity road game will be a good barometer to assess how far he's come.
"We'll see after the game," Calipari said. "We'll all have a good idea. Everybody is just looking for fight. Really don't care how he shoots the ball, if he turns it over some."
Poythress may know more about UK's opponent and the layout of the arena, but Julius Mays said it won't be that big of an advantage for him or the team.
"It's obviously different being a spectator and being outside the court, and being on the court," Mays said. "I don't think he can really tell us what it's like."
Cats can expect larger crowds on road
Kentucky goes on the road to start SEC play, and at every stop, the Cats should expect a larger-than-average crowd.
Against the 11 SEC teams that have been in the league for more than a year, attendance at the most recent home game against Kentucky was 120 percent higher than the average attendance in their other home games of that season.
Vanderbilt had the smallest differential (averaging 14,007 against non-UK teams in SEC home games while drawing 14,316 for UK), while South Carolina had the largest (averaging 8,616 against non-UK teams while drawing 16,527 for UK).
Mays said Calipari hasn't talked to the team about the differences in league competition, "but obviously, the wins and losses are a lot more important once you get into conference play, and we got to win on the road."
Mays said road tests at Notre Dame and Louisville, as well as neutral-site games against Duke and Maryland, have helped UK and accelerated their maturity in dealing with hostile crowds.
Along with the road games, UK will play two more league games than in the past with the new 18-game schedule.
Calipari said he reassured his team that they would be fine because they just went through a "great month of training" to prepare them for the ups-and-downs.
"The whole point is you've got a great foundation now to fight, to battle, to know that you can play with anybody if you choose to," Calipari said.
Defense up to par
Kentucky's defense has been its customarily stingy self this season.
The Cats rank No. 21 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (37.5 percent), and its adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 83.9 is fourth in the nation, according to KenPom.com.
Much of the defense's strength comes from its interior defense, anchored by freshman centers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Kentucky is holding opponents to 39.5 percent shooting on two-pointers (No. 10 nationally) and blocking 7.5 shots per game (No. 4 nationally).
"It enables us to take a lot more chances on defense," guard Archie Goodwin said. "Stretch out a lot more because we can depend on our length in the back to help."
While the interior is meeting the challenge, Calipari wants to see perimeter defense improve.
"We need to be a little stronger on the ball than we are," Calipari said. "I think Ryan (Harrow) has done well, but there are spots on the floor where we're not guarding the dribble as well as we can."
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