NASHVILLE — Just as Alex Poythress began answering a question in the Kentucky locker room Sunday afternoon, he was disrupted by a special delivery.
“This belongs to you,” teammate Mychal Mulder said. “Here you go, captain.”
Mulder placed Kentucky’s SEC tournament championship trophy next to Poythress’ locker, then walked away.
A little stunned, Poythress tried to continue his answer, but stopped.
“What was the question, again?” he asked.
The media wanted to know what makes this Kentucky team — Poythress’ fourth — different from the others. Different from the team that went 38-1 last season.
Poythress didn’t look over at the trophy, but it would’ve been an appropriate answer.
He missed last year’s conference tournament title run with a torn ACL, and his previous Wildcats teams had fallen short of the championship. A strong performance in this year’s event helped Kentucky emerge victorious, and the difference was obvious on a personal level: This time, he could say, I made it happen.
Alas, Poythress is not one to romance. He rattled off a non-answer about guard play, and also mentioned a time-honored sports cliche.
“It gives a lot of momentum,” he said of the win. “We’ve been playing great the last couple games.”
The “M” word was common amongst Wildcats on Sunday.
“We’ll just take this momentum and keep on rolling,” guard Isaiah Briscoe said.
But in the opposite corner from Poythress, one player diverted from the narrative. Momentum is bunk, Marcus Lee insisted.
“There’s 50 other teams that just came off a win,” Lee said. “Everybody’s kind of at an even point of momentum, and you’ve got to stick with your team and ride that boat.”
Lee, a junior, is one of the team’s elder statesmen. He played on last season’s 38-1 team, and noted one major difference in this squad.
“I feel like we’re more confident right now,” Lee said. “As a whole. We have everybody’s back right now.”
That’s not to say that the 38-1 team did not think highly of itself. Lee insisted there’s a different variety of confidence that is earned, not given.
“We were confident (last season), but we were confident because we were just great,” he said. “We’re confident now because we’ve been through so much, and we’ve been working hard to get here.”
Lee noted that Kentucky (26-8) began “clicking a couple weeks ago,” which corroborates testimony from coach John Calipari, who has been thoroughly impressed with his squad’s late-season win streak.
The Wildcats begin NCAA tournament play on Thursday vs. Stony Brook (9:40 p.m. ET, CBS), and — unlike last year’s team — they have taken the long road to on-court chemistry.
This past weekend was a turning point for the Wildcats, who had been struggling in tightly contested games.
With his trophy in tow, Poythress made that clear.
“We’re figuring out what to do in these situations,” he said. “When the game gets close in crunch time, we’re making the right plays.”