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By KEITH TAYLOR, The Winchester Sun
LEXINGTON — Willie Cauley-Stein is having fun spending time with family this week but also knows what looms ahead when the Wildcats return to practice Thursday before playing No. 4 Louisville Saturday.
Cauley-Stein is “really excited” to see his family and friends but added that being away from coaches and teammates “before a really big game is going to be big.” Cauley-Stein said staying in shape will be a key while the team is away from Lexington.
“We’ve got to be committed to keep the workout (plan) that (the coaches) give us,” he said Saturday after UK beat Belmont. “If not, you’re going to struggle when you get back. It’s a rough two days (before a big game) if you don’t do anything while you are home. It’s vital (to stay in shape). You have to be mentally prepared and do exactly (what the coaches tell you to do) before you leave.”
Cauley-Stein added that workouts can be tougher physically and mentally if players return from the break without following the team’s off-site workout plan. He already has served notice to the newcomers the importance of being in shape when they return to campus.
“I’ve warned them,” he said.
Cauley-Stein scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds in last year’s 80-77 loss to the Cardinals and was an intimidating force on defense with three blocked shots.
As for this year’s Louisville squad, Cauley-Stein admitted that he “hasn’t watched one game yet” but has an idea of what to expect.
“I just know they always play hard,” he said. “That’s about all I know.”
Cauley-Stein said the main focus for Kentucky is keep improving versus putting all the focus on retaining bragging rights for a year.
“We don’t necessarily need that type of win, we just need to get better,” he said. “A rivalry is a rivalry but at the end of the day, it really is the next game. We’ve just got to prepare for it. We’re not playing Louisville, we’re playing to get better against Louisville and Louisville just happens to be the team we’re playing. It can be anybody (we’re playing) and we’re thinking the same thing.”
In Kentucky’s final tuneup before the anticipated showdown against Louisville, Cauley-Stein scored a season-high 16 points, had seven rebounds and recorded a pair of blocks in the 93-80 win over Belmont.
Cauley-Stein said the Wildcats “definitely had a sense of urgency” following an 82-77 loss at North Carolina.
“Hopefully (we will) keep that (sense of urgency),” he said. “Every game is like that, everybody was hyped at the beginning. It was probably a little bit to do with that everyone is going home (for Christmas break). That is how it has to be every time.”