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By LARRY VAUGHT
When the final horn sounded, there was Julius Randle racing into the corner to celebrate and suddenly teammate Andrew Harrison was leaping on his back with a near choke hold.
But it was all good for the two Wildcats after No. 18 Kentucky somehow managed to overcome its own sloppy play at times to beat LSU 77-76 in overtime on Randle’s follow basket with 3.9 seconds to play Saturday.
It was perhaps the most jubilant moment of the season for the Wildcats — who came close to letting any chance of maintaining a high NCAA Tournament seed slip away with what would have been a crushing home loss this late in the season.
“It was really fun to win a game that way,” said Aaron Harrison, who led UK with 21 points, including 7-for-7 at the foul line. “I think this could bring us closer together. It will help us get closer because we just had to fight to get this win.
“We all enjoyed this. We were all happy for Julius. We just all want to win in spite of what some people might think.”
Kentucky had to survive a potential game-winning shot in regulation from Anthony Hickey, a Kentucky native who led LSU with 20 points and eight assists. Then the Cats needed Randle to go to war inside to rebound James Young’s miss and put in the follow shot — and then rejoice when LSU turned the ball over without getting a shot that could have won the game.
Randle joked that Andrew Harrison was “choking” him during the celebration, something that didn’t bother the UK freshman point guard.
“That was cool. He’s a big, strong dude. He’ll be okay,” Andrew Harrison said.
Maybe UK will be, too. There was James Young celebrating with teammates after the win and showing emotion he’s not displayed on the court all season. And he also didn’t shy away from inside contact when he drove inside LSU’s sagging zone on Randle. He was 5-for-9 at the foul line but had 20 points, four rebounds and one steal.
“I thought he did good stuff,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Again, here he is, he’s 1-for-4 from the 3. I’d like him to make a few more foul shots. If he goes 7-for-9 from the line … you’re the best shooter in the gym. How can you go 5-for-9?”
Young (17), Aaron Harrison (15) and Andrew Harrison (13) took 45 of Kentucky’s 67 shots, mostly on drives inside the lane. While Young and Aaron Harrison, both made seven, Andrew Harrison made just three and missed four straight shots late in regulation and to open overtime.
Credit LSU for doing all it could to keep the ball away from Randle, who was just 3-for-8 from the field but got the rebound and follow basket that he needed the most simply by refusing to give up on the play.
But Calipari said he continued to tell his players to drive, especially after LSU center Johnny O’Bryant got four fouls and was not contesting shots. He even yelled at Andrew Harrison once for taking an open 15-foot shot rather than going inside.
“We cleared out the court, spaced it out, said, ‘Forget about the offense, pass it twice and drive.’ That’s what we were doing.”
Kentucky won despite giving up a first-half lead and going just 1-for-9 from 3-point range. But UK hit 20 of 26 free throws and got 24 second-chance points, including the game-winning basket from Randle, to beat a team that physically manhandled UK earlier this season.
“You’re not going to play great every night,” Calipari said. “We missed a bunch of shots. We missed every 3. The game is never over until the horn sounds. That’s what I just kept telling them. Just play. But that’s an NCAA Tournament game there. That’s what it’s going to be like, that kind of game.”
Well, maybe not because at 16-10, 7-7 in SEC play, there’s no guarantee that LSU will even be a NCAA tourney team even if it has played like one twice against Kentucky.
Still, Calipari is not going to rock the boat, not this late in the season. He wasn’t going to overly complain about the lack of intensity and smart decision-making at times in the second half. He wants to focus on the positives and the win as he team tries to peak for March Madness.
He’s gone so far as to even have each player on the bench assigned a player on the court to talk to about energy. No kidding. That’s what he admitted after the game.
“We’re doing everything we can to get these guys to think different than they have ever thought in their life,” Calipari said. “No one’s ever attempted to do what we’re doing ow. All freshmen. All McDonald’s All-Americans. Bring them together, win a national title. Brought in a few players, but never tried this.
“I’m having to do stuff I’ve never done before. I had them take out the table in my office. I got a couch in there now.”
Again, that’s Calipari the master psychologist — and the same coach who complained about others “over analyzing” his team. But he’s right. This team can go from dominating to frustrating to jubilant in the same game.
But apparently the players are listening.
“Worried? Definitely. Coach was saying that we are not losing. When somebody says something like that, you have to believe it,” Andrew Harrison said.
Thanks to Randle, now they’ll likely believe any more after escaping with a win that maybe no one but Calipari believed they were going to get.
By Keith Taylor, The Winchester Sun
LEXINGTON — During a film session Monday night, Willie Cauley-Stein wasn’t happy with the way he was playing defense. He knew it was time to get the swagger back.
“I had to get my timing back on my blocked shots and everything else,” he said. “I had to get that confidence back on defense and everything else would turn out for itself.”
Cauley-Stein led Kentucky’s block party against Ole Miss, swatting six of the Wildcats’ season-high 12 blocked shots in an 80-64 win over the Rebels Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
The sophomore center not only hampered the Ole Miss offense in the paint, but he also had a hand in Kentucky’s offensive production, scoring a season-high 18 points to go along with 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Cauley-Stein added two assists and a steal to his stat line in one of his most impressive performances of the season.
“He was outstanding tonight,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “He obviously has a real big reputation coming in. He’s most certainly a very capable player and tonight his length was bothersome. Six blocks, he finished everything every thing at the basket, even when we would come up with somewhat of a stop, he was always there to get the loose ball. He did a great job of finishing for contact.”
Mired in a slump for most of January, Cauley-Stein started February with a bang and is spending less time critiquing his own performances. It worked against the Rebels.
“I’ve been over analyzing,” he said. “Since I got here, I’ve been over analyzing. It’s something that I just put behind me. I know how good I can be and it’s just work. Once I get the confidence to do the stuff I’m capable of doing, that’s when I’m not going to be over analyzing.”
In Kentucky’s 84-79 win at Missouri last weekend, Cauley-Stein watched as the Tigers pieced together a comeback down the stretch, only to come up short. The Wildcats proved they could win without his length in the paint, but Kentucky coach John Calipari knows the Wildcats need his shot-blocking abilities in the post to give the defense a boost.
“You think of our team last year, we were a pretty good defensive team until he got hurt,” the Kentucky coach said. “Wow, we’re not the same team. So the last game (at Missouri), all those right drives, who was not in the game? Willie. So you get confident just driving and I can shoot layups, so then you shoot them.
“It was a little different today. We end up with 12 blocks because they just thought they could drive it, and that’s what he does. He had great defensive confidence. And there is such a thing as defensive confidence. He didn’t have that at Missouri. He left early — he was antsy. He left his feet on 6-foot guys and fouled. But today he had it.”
Although his past trials are behind him, Cauley-Stein said he’s still figuring out his game.
“I know how good I can be on defense,” he said. “I’m still young and figuring out myself. Once it starts to click, I think it will be all right.”
In addition, he’s also tuning the outside noise out and staying focused on the task at hand.
“What the people are saying, you have to throw it out,” he said. “You just have to prove them wrong. That’s what (Calipari) keeps on saying. We’ve got to work even harder so that you prove them wrong. Then they can’t do anything about it. You’ve got to stay the course.
“You can’t really feed into what the media says or what people are talking (about). You’ve just got to stay stay the course and keep practicing like we have all along and taking care of what you’re doing, outside of getting extra work in. Eventually you’ll come out of it. You can’t do all that stuff and not have good stuff happen back. You’ve really just got to stay the course.”
Cauley-Stein said the Wildcats will continue to work on their defense going into back-to-back road games at Mississippi State and Auburn.
“That’s going to continue to be our emphasis if we want a chance to make it the NCAA,” he said. “We need to have a defensive presence to where we’re capable of stopping someone every single time. Once we get that, we’ll be really good.”
The Wildcats took a step forward on defense against the Rebels.
Keith Taylor can be reached on twitter @keithtaylor21
By LARRY VAUGHT
Even before the season started Kentucky coach John Calipari talked about the potential his team, which was ranked No. 1 in the preseason, had. He noted UK might have seven players capable of scoring 25 points in a game and didn’t openly discourage talk of his team going 40-0.
And don’t forget how often Calipari has talked about putting players into the NBA — which he has done exceptionally well — along with winning the 2012 national championship.
Yet after the Wildcats beat Mississippi 80-64 here Tuesday night, Calipari noted how his team was the most “overanalyzed team he had ever seen in the history of the game at any level in any sport.”
He cited the weekly updates on “what we are and what we are not” and that UK’s losses “are worse than any other loss in the country.” He pointed out that LSU had “three NBA players” along with two veteran guards and yet the Cats dropped from 11th to 18th in the AP poll — a move Calipari said he predicted to his coaches — after last week’s road loss.
“This team has to deal with all that. It’s hard to play here,” Calipari said. “You have a bad game, you can’t play any more. You go from a great player to you stink in one game.”
However, he said that’s one reason UK players tend to go to the NBA and do well.
“They can deal with all the crap,” Calipari said.
Whatever the reason, UK outscored the Rebels 45-30 the second half by dominating the game inside behind the play of Willie Cauley-Stein, one of those players who went from great to “you stink” during a recent funk that even had Cauley-Stein wondering what was wrong.
“At Missouri (Saturday) I was mad because I was almost back home and wanted to play good and was just too antsy and that threw my timing off,” Cauley-Stein, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots, said. “This game I was more relaxed and doing what I could do.”
Calipari said UK was getting better and particularly liked the 41-26 rebounding edge that included 15 offensive rebounds by six different players led by five by Cauley-Stein and three by Alex Poythress.
“This is a tough team to play. They were tied with us for a reason (in the SEC),” Calipari said. “It will be a different game down there (when the teams play at Ole Miss). It will be a war.”
Kentucky had five players score in double figures for the first time since Nov. 29. Poythress continued to be solid with 10 points — and a highlight dunk — and seven rebounds. Aaron Harrison was 5-for-10 from the field and had 16 points, six rebounds and two assists. Julius Randle overcame a shaky first half — Calipari didn’t start him the second half — to finish with 12 points and five rebounds.
Kentucky goes on the road now to play at Mississippi State and Auburn — two games it should win — before hosting Florida Feb. 15 on ESPN GameDay. That’s when the chatter will really go up — win or lose — about the Cats and Calipari said the scrutiny takes a toll on his young team.
“They’re 18 and 19 years old. This is the youngest team in the country to play at this level maybe ever. Yeah, it affects them. I tried to tell them. I said, you think it’s opinion (by a media member). Most cases it’s the hope of the writer. It’s not their opinion; it’s their hope. Don’t deal with it. You can’t let it affect you,” Calipari said.
“I told some of them, they came into practice really excited after Missouri. Are you excited because we won? You can’t be that way. You’re excited because you want to get better. You’ve got to be excited if we get dinged and we lose a game. You’ve got to come in with an excited level. I told them if you think every game you’re going to play you’ve got to follow it with the win, you’ve got to learn to deal with adversity, and we’ve had some this year.”
But this was a game where UK dealt with the first-half adversity and responded by dominating play the second half any way you want to analyze it.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said UK’s length not only led to a 44-24 advantage in points in the paint for UK, but also contributed to his two best players — Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers — going a combined 10-for-31 from the field in UK’s 80-64 win.
“Their length was problematic. They were switching ball screens. We are never very proficient at the rim, but in the first half our big guys were at least cleaning up and that’s what kept us in the game,” Kennedy said.
“But their length bothered us. We couldn’t stop them. They only missed 10 field goals in the second half and part of that was at the end. An Ole Miss Rebel did not grab a defensive rebound until two minutes were left in the half. I have never seen that.”
That’s because UK’s inside players finally went to work dominating the boards led by Willie Cauley-Stein, who had 18 points (7-for-8), 11 rebounds, six blocked shots, two assists and one steal. That’s better production than he’s almost had in the past five games combined.
“He was outstanding tonight,” Kennedy said. “He has shown himself to be a complete player and his length was very bothersome. He finished everything at the basket. Even when we got a stop, he was there to clean up and finish through contact.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
With Kentucky now 15-5 — remember all the preseason speculation about the team maybe going 40-0 with perhaps the all-time best recruiting class — is it time to admit the Wildcats were overrated going into the season? Or is it time to acknowledge that the team has just underachieved going into Saturday’s game at Missouri?
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy, who knows UK coach John Calipari well, thinks it might be a combination of both factors that have led to unexpected defeats and sometimes uninspired play.
“I did think Kentucky would be a lot better, and John (Calipari) did, too,” DeCourcy said. “Defensively, they are not playing with great energy or passion. Offensively, they don’t have a lot of cohesion. They do not always play with each other. There has been a little progress from when I saw them against Louisville.
“James Young has gotten better, but I would just like one time to see him pass up an okay shot to see if a great shot was available. I have never seen him pass up an open shot ever. If he has a shot, he shoots it. If he was Pistol Pete Maravich and there were not a lot of guys to throw the ball to, that’s one thing. But he’s often playing with four future NBA players.”
He’s not picking on Young, either, because he acknowledges that guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both projected as the top players at their positions in the 2013 recruiting class, have struggled. Andrew, the point guard, was ranked as the third best overall player in the 2013 class. But in the last five games, he has 19 assists, including just one in Tuesday’s loss at LSU, and 13 turnovers while shooting just over 30 percent from the field.
“Andrew is 6-5 but he is not a commanding point guard presence like you would think the second or third best overall player in a recruiting class would be,” DeCourcy said. “This year Emmanuel Mudiay (who picked SMU over Kentucky) is a phenomenal athlete but I am not sure about him being the next great point guard.
“Andrew and Aaron are both fine players, just maybe not the players they were promoted to be. They were ranked in the same neighborhood as (Andrew Wiggins), (Julius) Randle and (Jabari) Parker and you’ve got to be extraordinary to be in there with those guys. But they are still future NBA players. Don’t get me wrong. They are still excellent players.
Randle, once considered a potential No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft, has had his stock, too. He’s scored 20 or more points in just one of the last five games — with 16 turnovers — and had just six points and five rebounds at LSU while being outplayed by freshman Jordan Mickey.
“Julius’ problem is somewhat that he doesn’t get access to the ball as regularly as he would like or should be,” DeCourcy said. “Then when he gets the ball, he tries to do more than he should. When LSU played that zone, he tried to go through it instead of around it. If you try to take on a zone and go through it, you are going to lose every time. Even a bad zone beats you if you try to go through it. If you go around it, you have a chance.
“Julius tried to go straight through the heart of the zone and struggled as a result. That’s been his problem. When teams play man and rotate help on him, he can fight through that. He has momentum to beat his man and the other guy is coming late, so he’s just beating on man and making plays before the other arrives. In the zone, he’s trying to do the same thing facing two or three guys who are where they want to be and that doesn’t work.”
Perhaps the most puzzling player, though, has been Willie Cauley-Stein. Once on pace to challenge the blocked shots exploits of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Cauley-Stein has become a non-factor in recent games. He was manhandled by LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant much like he was by Tennessee’s inside player. He has blocked one shot or none in four of the last five game and played less than 20 minutes in all four games — and without him UK has not had a rim protector.
“I don’t know why he is not competing. I don’t understand why he has become less competitive,” DeCourcy said. “When you see something like that, there is usually a reason behind it. Maybe he has a pain he’s hiding and playing through. It could be something personal. It just doesn’t make sense and is not typical for someone who has been competitive like he has.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne didn’t mince words about what was wrong with UK’s play in Tuesday’s 87-82 loss at LSU — a game where the No. 11 Cats fell behind 22-6 to start the game.
“It was very disappointing for our players, our coaching staff,” said Payne on the UK Radio Network postgame show. “We gave them a game plan and the didn’t execute. More important, they didn’t fight. It’s all about fighting, not strategy, not X’s and O’s. It’s about fighting and we didn’t fight and that’s disappointing.”
LSU certainly came out fighting.
“We needed this game really bad. We went out and executed our game plan for the whole 40 minutes,” LSU freshman Jordan Mickey said. “It was all a team effort. We tried to limit them to one shot. We did a great job rebounding and getting the tough 50/50 balls. We hustled a lot and it was just a great team effort.”
“We wanted to come out aggressive. I think when I scored those first couple of baskets, the team really rallied around me. They just fed off my energy to begin with,” LSU center Johnny O’Bryant said. “I really tried to attack them. I knew that they were young guys and I had an advantage in experience and body wise. I was going at them all night.”
Payne agreed and that both frustrated and irritated him. He noted that not only did O’Bryant dominate inside, but the Tigers also made seven 3-pointers.
“They took the fight to us and we didn’t respond and that’s not quite good enough,” Payne said. “In the post, the game plan was to trap Johnny O’Bryant.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said it was his fault for not trapping O’Bryant from the start, but Payne offered a different explanation.
“Initially, we did not get that done for whatever reasons. Mentally, we just were not ready,” Payne said. “He wanted to play well against Kentucky and he dominated us. That’s the mental part of the game to execute. We worked on that but we are not getting that for whatever reason. You can blame it on youth, but at the end of the day you have a job to do and you have got to do it.
“We had been practicing well. We had been playing well. It would have been nice to come out and fight and play the game we know we can play and see where the chips would fall. But to go out and play like this … and no disrespect to them. They took the fight to us and outplayed us.”
Payne credited Dakari Johnson for the way “he battled and did everything we asked him to do.” He said the freshman did a “hell of a job” against LSU.
He had different thoughts about Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein, who was shown on TV exchanging heated words with Payne on the bench.
“We fight for low post position. Play strong. You can’t run from people,” Payne said. “You have to be the aggressor and get the ball in the basket. It just comes down to fighting.”
Kentucky will get another chance to show it can “fight” at Missouri Saturday. The Tigers are coming off a win at Arkansas — a team that beat UK in overtime. Chances are Missouri will view the game as a resume-builder just like LSU did.
“Kentucky, with the history and tradition that they have in our league, being ranked in the top-15 or top-20 teams in the country, is a big win for us,” Jones said. “That was a huge win for us. We know we have a lot of season left in front of us, but we certainly think that’s a really good win for us.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Want to know what was the best part of Kentucky’s 79-54 win over Georgia here Saturday?
Points leader — Aaron Harrison, 15. Rebound leader — Julius Randle, 9. Assists leader — Andrew Harrison, 5. Blocks leader — Willie Cauley-Stein, 6.
It was simply a game where players did what they were supposed to do — 11 players scored and six scored at least 7 points. Andrew Harrison may have had his best overall game as several times he made eye contact with teammates on fast breaks that led to lob passes for dunks. He also didn’t always force his way to the basket and hit pull-up jump shots. Aaron Harrison was 6-for-10 from the field and also had three assists, one block and one steal.
Randle had the defense collapse on him — what’s new in Southeastern Conference play — but passed the ball better and was content to hit the boards rather than force bad shots. But he still battled and scored 14 points while letting the game come to him.
Cauley-Stein? He was his old self and not that Cauley-Stein of the recent three-game slump. Maybe it was the headband he put back on. Whatever it was, he was playing with energy and doing a little bit of everything. Not only did he block six shots (he had two in the last three games), but he also had three rebounds, eight points and career-high six steals.
Need more? Alex Poythress came off the bench to score 11 points and was strong inside again. James Young hit outside shots and scored 13 points.
“I think that is strength of their team that a lot of guys finish plays,” Georgia coach Mark Fox, who had to play without his best two shooting guards due to injury and was limited offensively because of that. “You can not just slow down one guy. Their balance makes them very difficult to defend.”
He also wanted no part of hearing about Cauley-Stein’s three-game slump.
“He grew up 50 miles from where I did (in Kansas). I don’t think he’s slumping,”Fox said. “They have a lot of guys making plays. He is a terrific player. I don’t think he’s slumping. It just comes with the territory.”
That territory as UK includes being judged on postseason success. This team came into the season ranked No. 1, but lost close games to Michigan State, Baylor, North Carolina and Arkansas. Calipari has cited the team’s youth and need to learn how to play as a team and not as individuals. But maybe, must maybe, the Cats are starting to get that message.
“I like this team. Will we be disciplined enough to be special?” Calipari said after the win. “It’s not about enough bodies or talent. Will we become the team we can be and have the discipline it takes to do something really unique and special? We will see.”
But wasn’t today a step in that direction or not?
“It is about players first. You’ve got to get them right. You’ve got to get them in the frame of mind, and then you get your team right,” Calipari said. “Now for us that means … if you in any way are not playing for your team, you’re watching me sub guys out now. You’re out. Somebody else is playing. And I’m trying to hold them more accountable.”
The players know — and seem to be accepting that.
“Two months ago we were all playing for ourselves and thinking about ourselves and not each other,” Young, who was 5-for-10 from the field, said. “Now we know if one does good, we all do good. A lot of guys are starting to do individual work on their own. That is getting everybody ready and better.
“It’s a process, something we understand now. You have to take it day by day to get better. Every day our communication is getting better.”
That certainly goes for Andrew Harrison, who had seven points, five assists, one steal, one block, three rebounds and three turnovers in 29 minutes. The only thing he did that upset Calipari was that he missed “like three runners” and put his head down.
“I took him out. It’s a great shot, you missed it. But you’re going to have an attitude, head down on that? It was a great shot. That’s the thing, he and his brother (Aaron) are getting by, so now you don’t see it as much any more. They understand. Just play for your team, take the shots you’re supposed to take,” Calipari said.
Aaron Harrison says the team’s improved play goes back to the way his brother, Andrew, is playing at point guard.
“Andrew is the reason why we are looking better,” Aaron Harrison said. “He’s running the team, passing the ball, playing D (defense). He is doing a good job.
“We also were more focused as a team. Everybody wanted to make a statement with our play today.”
Now UK has to make that statement with road games at LSU and Missouri. Win those two and UK could be back close to the top 10 in the national rankings and stay within range of Florida in the SEC race. More importantly, it would continue the upward curve the Cats seem to be on.
“This was a good game for us,” Calipari said. “We’re learning. They’re trying.”
Young said Calipari is right now about it coming down to mental discipline.
“Like when we come out of a timeout and he tells us to run one play and we do not, or did not,” Young said. “That’s what he’s talking about. We have to execute each play and not just do things on our own. That’s what we are learning and did better in this game, but there’s still a lot to learn.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
What is wrong with Willie Cauley-Stein?
That’s the question most Kentucky basketball fans, and maybe even coach John Calipari, want answered after the 7-foot sophomore center had his third straight lacklustre performance Tuesday in a win over Texas A&M.
Cauley-Stein played a season-low nine minutes — only twice in his freshman season did he play fewer minutes in a game. He missed his only two shots, made only one of four free throws, grabbed a season-low one rebound and for only the second time this season did not block a shot.
That came after he had just three rebounds, one block and no points against Tennessee the game before and just two points, six rebounds and one block before that in the overtime loss at Arkansas.
Cauley-Stein has three points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in the last three games. Compare that to the 15 points, six rebounds and one block he had against Vanderbilt before the streak started.
Cauley-Stein was almost listless and was a non-factor on both ends against Texas A&M. Freshman center Dakari Johnson filled in well — just as he did against Tennessee — and even started the second half. But he’s not the rim protector Cauley-Stein is even though he did have three blocked shots because he’s not as athletic as Cauley-Stein.
“I’ve just been trying to come off the bench and give a little spark to the team, bring energy. So that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Johnson after Tuesday’s game. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with Willie. I know he’ll bounce back. He’ll have some great practices. We really need him to step up if we want to do anything special, but he’ll be fine. He has been playing well in practice, he really has. So I am positive he will bounce back. Everybody is (positive).”
Freshman Julius Randle isn’t worried about Cauley-Stein’s slump and knows how much the Wildcats need Cauley-Stein’s overall presence.
“I can’t really speak for Willie. All I can really say is this season we’ve all seen what he can do,” said Randle. “As far as the defensive end, he changes the game completely. And offensively if he’s aggressive he really changes the game. We’re not going to be where we want to be unless Willie’s playing well and we all know that.
“I can’t say it’s a lack of him no practicing hard or putting in extra effort or extra work at night with coaches. I’ve seen him do it before practice, after practice, stuff like that. So I think it’ll come around him.”
So what does Calipari think is going on?
“I don’t know what’s wrong with Willie, but he’ll be fine,” Calipari said after the win. “I just … look, when you’re a coach and you coach the game to win. Then you work on egos and all the other stuff after. Dakari was playing better than him, so I started Dakari (in the second half). Dakari continued to play better than him. At the end of the game, I said (to Cauley-Stein), “Look, we’re going at you. You got to get going here, kid.’ He turned and fumbled. I mean, it didn’t get any better.
“You know, he wants to do well. He was doing really well, and he backed up a little bit. It’s like a slippery slope. When you back up, you don’t keep bringing it. All of a sudden you go that other way. This sport is mental as much as anything else.”
It is. Kentucky fans wonder if Cauley-Stein should go back to wearing his head band. Or maybe dye his hair blonde again — and leave it that way.
Whatever the reason, it’s the worst slump he’s had since Nerlens Noel was injured midway of Southeastern Conference play and Cauley-Stein became a starter. He scored in double figures in four of UK’s final eight games to end last season and had six or more rebounds in every game but one. He has seven double-figure scoring games this season and five games with 10 or more rebounds. He once ranked among the nation’s elite shot blockers even though he has just 10 in the last eight games now.
As the games have become more physical, he’s regressed except for his overall play against Louisville. Four times in the last six games he’s either failed to make a field goal or had just one. He’s 2-for-12 from the field in thos four games.
“He is doing fine. Willie is Willie. He has the same attitude. He says he will be fine. He’s just in a little slump. Everybody gets in a little slump, so he will bounce back,” Johnson said in defense of his teammate that he battles daily in practice.
Any chance Johnson has beat on Cauley-Stein too much in practice and wore him down physically since he seems to have lost his energy in games?
“He has been practicing really well. He knows he has not been playing well, so he is trying to practice hard and going hard and I am pretty sure he will be fine,” Johnson said.
But will he? Three games can be a slump that he could break out of Saturday against Georgia. If not, Johnson could continue to play more and compensate for Cauley-Stein’s inefficiency.
However, for UK to be the factor in postseason play that it wants to be, the Cats need the old Cauley-Stein that blocked shots, ran the court and hit the boards to reappear and do so soon.
By LARRY VAUGHT
What did the film from Saturday show that caused Willie Cauley-Stein to be such a non-factor against Tennessee?
“Once they made contact, he didn’t fight back,” Kentucky assistant coach John Robic said today. “He had a big height advantage. He has to get down low and be physical and make the first blow and then use his size to rebound it above the rim.”
And what did Dakari Johnson do that let him be more effective?
“We are really happy for Dakari. That was probably the best he has played,” Robic said. “He is realistic. Some games are tough matchups with post players that are smaller, thinner and quicker and can take him away from the basket. He’s in his best shape ever. He’s running the floor well. He used his size well. It was a great matchup game for him. He set good screens. He’s been in the gym and getting extra work and making sure he’s doing extra conditioning and focusing on things he can do to help us win a few more games.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Does it take longer for a big player like Dakari Johnson to develop than smaller perimeter players? Here’s the long answer John Calipari gave Saturday:
“Big players develop later, but again, all these guys, they’ve got to eliminate the clutter. You’ve got to quit own your performance, come in, practice and work. And again, this is not a disrespectful thing, but you know how you get letters, and if there’s an addressed envelope, like I will never my secretary doesn’t give me any unaddressed letters. They’re torn up, so I don’t even see them,” Calipari said.
“But someone sends me something about play more guys. If you play more guys, … which is different teams. It’s harder when you’ve got a young team to play more guys because you’re trying to get your team right. But the second point I said, this is with all due respect, in 2010 when I called Coach (John) Wooden about my team, he told me I play too many guys. You need to play six or seven, maybe eight max if somebody is in foul trouble. All kind of ways of doing this.
“He was behind Willie; how well was Willie playing? Not a whole lot of minutes there. Now Willie is not playing as well, now you go do your minutes and prove you should play more. Own your performance. And he did. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of Alex.
You know, all these guys, I didn’t put Jon Hood in today. Jon has had the greatest attitude and the greatest approach and has grown so much in the time he’s been here, I just see him, like what do you want to do, do you want to get into coaching? What do you really want to do? But you just see the growth. Sometimes you see it fast; Alex it’s taken time. So what? What if it takes two years, three years? So? It does take time.