LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari had been waiting a while for Alex Poythress to blend focus and emotion along with his talent.
Not only did those aspects re-appear for Poythress on Saturday, but the freshman forward also showed a sense of timing in helping the Wildcats beat LSU 75-70.
Poythress scored 20 points for the first time since November, including two free throws with 1 second remaining, as Kentucky survived the Tigers.
"I just tried to be more assertive in the game," said Poythress, who added a career-high 12 rebounds for his first career double-double. "I just tried to make plays for my teammates and tried to help my teammates make tough rebounds and all that stuff."
For Calipari, who called out the low-key Poythress before working personally with him in an effort to boost his intensity and commitment, his performance was a welcome sight.
"He's getting it," the coach said. "You talk about success being a peace of mind, knowing you've done your best. Today, he can walk out of there knowing he did his best. That's win or lose. He did his best."
Archie Goodwin added 15 points, Ryan Harrow 11 and Nerlens Noel 10 with six blocks as the Wildcats (13-6, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) recovered from Tuesday's loss at Alabama. Noel's 82 blocks overall has him second on Kentucky's freshman single-season list.
Poythress helped seal Kentucky's victory, which featured some drama at the end with the Wildcats almost having six players on the court.
The Wildcats led by as many as 15 points before halftime and were up 69-63 with 1:57 remaining before LSU rallied to within 71-70 on Johnny O'Bryant III's follow with 3.9 seconds left. As Kyle Wiltjer was fouled on the inbounds pass, the LSU bench argued that Noel was on the court before being pulled back by Wildcats assistant coach John Robic.
No call or review was made and game officials declined comment to a pool reporter. SEC Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officials Gerald Boudreaux later cited Rule 7, Section 6, Article 1 of the NCAA rule book in his statement saying that the team inbounding the ball had control of the situation.
"The officiating crew ruled that when the ball was handed to the player for the throw-in, five players were on the court for each team," Boudreaux said in a statement.
Boudreaux added that he will also deal with the officials leaving without comment "and will make sure that this will not happen again."
Wiltjer made two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to put Kentucky up by three and Poythress clinched it with two more after rebounding Anthony Hickey's missed front end of a one-an-one.
Kentucky shot 52 percent (27 of 52) and outrebounded LSU 39-26.
O'Bryant had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Tigers (10-7, 1-5), who lost to the Wildcats for the fifth straight time.
Hickey added 15 points and Andre Stringer 13 for LSU, which shot 39.7 percent (25 of 63).
"I told the guys after the game, it's this environment that you play in front of," first-year LSU coach Johnny Jones said of playing before 24,248 at Rupp Arena. "I think when you have a crowd like this, it's extremely tough. I thought our guys handled it well and really played between the lines. I think that's something we can take away from it."
Kentucky's 59-55 loss at Alabama on Tuesday created some urgency on Saturday for the Wildcats, who were looking to build their NCAA tournament resume while trying to avoid their first conference losing streak of the season.
The Wildcats' individual play in blowing a nine-point halftime lead to the Crimson Tide led Calipari to consider sitting some players. That didn't happen, with the starting lineup as Noel, Poythress, Goodwin, Harrow and Julius Mays began their third straight game together while center Willie Cauley-Stein continued healing from a procedure on his left knee last week.
Just about every combination worked in the first half for the Wildcats, who seemed more in sync in building a 42-31 lead. Just as impressive as Kentucky's 58 percent shooting (19 of 33) was its balance as every starter had at least two baskets while Wiltjer added six coming off the bench and finished with eight.
Poythress was particularly energetic with 11 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. His most impressive sequence came late in the half as he let out a yell muscling for a tip-in and drawing the foul.
Poythress completed the three-point play for a 38-25 lead, drawing a sustained cheer as he went to the bench.
"It's hard for us to lose when he plays like that," Goodwin said. "It's not that he has not been playing good, it's just a difference when he uses effort, then he has a really good game like this."
Kentucky also outrebounded LSU, 22-16, with efficiency that thwarted LSU's hopes of disrupting the Wildcats with pressure defense and perimeter shooting. The Tigers entered the game leading the SEC in steals at 10.6 per game in league play but tallied just two in the first 20 minutes.
They were also 12 of 34 from the field (35 percent) in the first half.
The Tigers turned up the pressure down the stretch and forced several turnovers that got them close.
"It went down to the wire, but they executed towards the end," Hickey said.