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By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein struggled to explain exactly how he felt after Kentucky lost to Louisville for the first time in four years Saturday.
“The expectations here are so high. You are not supposed to lose to Louisville … it’s just depressing to know that we have to live what that the rest of the year. If we had just made free throws, we would have won,” said Cauley-Stein after the 80-77 loss at No. 4 Louisville.
Cauley-Stein was 0-for-4 from the foul line — he actually went 0-for-6 as twice Louisville was called for lane violations on his misses and he missed the extra attempts both times. As a team, UK was only 11-for-23 at the foul line compared to 17-for-25 for Louisville.
“I told Willie, ‘Don’t worry about it. You worked on these free throws during practice, so just go in there and knock them down.’ It just happened that he missed his shots,” UK point guard Ryan Harrow said. “But it wasn’t just missed free throws from Willie. Some of us missed on defense. Some of us missed open shots. It was a team loss.”
Cauley-Stein got his first start as UK coach John Calipari benched Alex Poythress, who scored 20 or more points in four straight games earlier this season, for his lack of production and intensity in recent games. Cauley-Stein got in early foul trouble but still had six points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 23 minutes. He also did not commit a turnover.
“He’ll be fine. Look, he’s never been in this environment,” Calipari sid. “He was a football player. He was playing wide receiver. Now we’ve got him out there and he looked pretty good. He did some really good stuff. We’ve gotta work on his free throw. But I’m not – if he blocks shots and does all the other things, we’ll just tell him, ‘Try not to get fouled.’ You do all the other things, we’ll be good. So I was pleased with Willie. I thought Willie defended.”
Cauley-Stein had only made 10 of 24 free throws (41.7 percent) coming into the game. That had prompted UK coaches to change his free throw mechanics.
“I haven’t had a game since I changed my free throw shot. Unfortunately it was a huge game that I got a bunch of free throw chances in. I think I got crossed between my old shot and my new shot. I’ve just got to go back in the gym and work on it,” the freshman said.
“I used to hold it down really low and then come up, and they said I had a whole bunch of time where I could mess something up. So now they want me to pause it (around his chest) and then go up. So now I’m pausing it, but then I’m pausing it again before I shoot, so it’s not like one fluid motion and you still have that time where you can still mess up your shot, maybe it push it a little too much right. I think that’s one of my problems.”
He admitted he was frustrated over his misses at the foul line that offset other things he did well.
“It just comes with the game, I guess. You make ‘em and you miss ‘em, and tonight I just missed all of them,” Cauley-Stein said. “But I’m going to go back and I’m going to work. It’s going to be my strong mindset of working on the next couple days and throughout the rest of the season. “We did get better. We’ve just got to capitalize on it and move forward and use this as a lesson game.”
Cauley-Stein knows he got a feel for what Southeastern Conference road games will be like playing in the Yum Center against Louisville.
“It’s going to be like this every game. The crowds are going to be crazy like this. People are going to play like this is their Super Bowl. For us, it’s going to be like that every game,” he said. “We’ve just got to come out and compete like we did today and make less mistakes and more free throws and we’re going to be good.”