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- Cauley-Stein on comparison to Rodman: “I ain’t wearing no wedding dress or nothing.”
By ASHLEY SCOBY
Let’s be clear: I will probably never bleach my hair blonde.
Having said that, I really couldn’t care less if anyone else does it. That’s why I was shocked at what I read from Kentucky fans on Twitter once a photo circulated of Willie Cauley-Stein’s new ‘do: a bleach blonde high-top fade that took a diagonal angle from left to right.
From calling him the “Blonde Bricklayer” (in reference to his missed free throws), to making fun of the way Cauley-Stein looked, to telling him he should have been in the gym instead of the barbershop, there was a certain segment of UK fans that lost their minds over the hairstyle Tuesday.
Kentucky basketball or not, that kind of treatment just isn’t fair.
Cauley-Stein is not a trouble-maker, that he has shown through his actions, at least. When asked questions, he’s thoughtful, funny and intelligent. He takes basketball seriously, and came back to Kentucky for another year because he said something was “missing” inside of him after the Cats failed to win a championship his freshman season. He has been a solid contributor all year, and is one block away from Anthony Davis’ record-setting pace two years ago.
Yet Cauley-Stein is also not afraid to show some personality. His body is filled with tattoos. He wears big, black-framed glasses off the court. He jokes around and steers away from cookie-cutter answers during interviews. He is an art studio major, and has not been shy about art being important to him outside of basketball.
So if Cauley-Stein wants to dye his hair blonde or purple or green, or a combination of all those colors, let him. He is an artistic teenager who wants to express himself. And above all, he is gutsy.
To walk into an arena where you know 23,000 people will be staring at you and your hair – some pointing, some laughing, some taking pictures – takes some fearlessness. It’s the kind of fearlessness that Kentucky fans supposedly want on their teams.
Coming from a student’s perspective, to be different on a campus where the student population is overwhelmingly Greek, and originality is often stifled, takes courage from anyone. But it’s especially courageous for a men’s basketball player to do anything remotely outside the box, because everyone’s eyes (and iPhones) are constantly on him.
Having blonde hair doesn’t suddenly render Cauley-Stein incapable of blocking a shot (clearly, as he had nine against Boise State), or rebounding, or diving for loose balls. To the contrary, the 7-footer continued to launch himself onto the court when a ball popped loose Tuesday night, even while he was playing with a “sickle-cell issue” that occasionally leaves him breathless and struggling with chest pain.
Yes, he missed free throws. As did the rest of his teammates, with all their normal hairstyles intact.
Theoretically, Cauley-Stein could have spent an hour in the gym shooting free throws instead of going to the barbershop. But UK basketball players still get haircuts. They still can go out to eat or see a movie. They still take the time to pick up a new pair of shoes at the mall, or whatever they want to do in their free time (of which they have very little). Nobody is going to spend 24 hours a day in a gym, no matter how bad their free throw shooting form is.
For all UK fans know, Cauley-Stein could have spent six hours shooting at the Craft Center, then went to the barber shop as a reward to himself. Maybe he didn’t. The point is, we don’t know. And we shouldn’t care.
“I don’t understand that,” Cauley-Stein said about fans’ complaints that he was getting his hair done instead of practicing. “I could say I’m going to get something to eat so I can be energized for the game and they’ll say, ‘Why aren’t you in the gym shooting free throws?’ I got to eat and get energized for the game, what you mean? I swear, it’s like that all the time. I could tweet ‘hot dogs,’ some random thing, and they’ll come up with something crazy to say back.”
Just because Cauley-Stein is blonde now doesn’t mean he should have to play like a star every night just to live up to some invisible bar he raised when he chose to bleach his hair. You shouldn’t have to be a star to be able to choose your own hair color. You don’t have to be a successful businessman to choose to wear a suit in the morning, and you don’t have to be a successful basketball player to choose your hair color.
Some may say, “Well, that’s just the way it is when you’re a student-athlete.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. These players are still 18- and 19-year-olds expressing their personalities through creative, harmless and legal ways. They’re still representing the university with dignity and class. Cauley-Stein just happened to do it through his hair color this week.
While there were plenty of Kentucky fans that applauded Cauley-Stein for his originality and personality, there were also plenty that dogged him for not playing “well enough” to be able to bleach his hair.
Those fans need to take a quick jump back to reality, and understand that a player’s “expression of personality” could just as easily be getting caught with drugs, robbing a gas station or flipping the bird at opposing fans, as we’ve seen in sports recently. There are a lot worse things that Cauley-Stein could be doing besides sitting in a barber’s chair.
A bleached hairdo doesn’t bring out the worst in Cauley-Stein. It brings out the worst in Kentucky fans.
What does Willie Cauley-Stein think of John Calipari comparing him to Dennis Rodman after he changed his hair color?
“One thing I take from Dennis Rodman is that he played a very smart, psychological warfare on the basketball court. He did a lot of crazy, weird things,” Cauley-Stein said. “I won’t do none of the weird stuff he’s doing, maybe dye my hair, but I ain’t wearing no wedding dress or nothing.
“He just did crazy things and makes people think about him. You need to be focused about the game. Why you focused on my hair? You know what I’m saying?”
By: ASHLEY SCOBY
On a night where his hair color made waves within the UK fanbase, Willie Cauley-Stein quickly got the topic switched back to his game.
Cauley-Stein, sporting a new bleach-blonde hairdo, was a force in the paint defensively, blocking nine shots in Tuesday’s game against Boise State. Those nine blocks tied his own career best, which is also the second-highest block total in a single game in UK history. He is also one block away from the pace that Anthony Davis set in the same amount of games during his record-breaking 2011-12 season.
The newly-blonde Cauley-Stein also totaled 6 points and 6 rebounds, putting him in at least sniffing range of a triple-double midway through the second half.
Although highly productive when he was in the game, Cauley-Stein only played 25 minutes, the fewest of the starters. He said a “sickle-cell problem” causes occasional chest pain and fatigue, which made it necessary to get more rest.
“I have the sickle-cell trait,” he said. “Some days, it’s just randomly where I’ll have real bad chest pain and I can’t breathe and my heart rate won’t come down so then I’ve got to stop and wait for it to come down.”
Even while playing under that kind of duress, Cauley’Stein’s production on the defensive end was a game-changer against Boise State. The Broncos, who play a much smaller line-up and move the ball fluidly on the offensive end, struggled against the size that Cauley-Stein and the rest of Kentucky’s frontcourt brought.
“Some of the things they do, it’s like me with my 10-year-old son in the driveway,” said Boise State head coach Leon Rice.
Cauley-Stein, in particular, was difficult for the Broncos to go against.
“You get to the rim, and he blocks 9 of them, and he alters probably 10 more of them,” Rice said. “We’ve been able to get to the rim a little bit in the preseason, but not on him. That’s the difference for them.”
According to Cauley-Stein, it’s not just his own talent that has allowed him to have such a huge year defensively (43 blocks so far): Instead, it’s the style of play that John Calipari puts his bigs into, he said
“It’s the system,” Cauley-Stein said. “It allows you to do that. … You’ve got freedom to leave your man whenever and somebody’s got to get your back and you just try to go block everything.”
Blocking shots was not the only way Cauley-Stein was able to defend the high-scoring Broncos, who came into the game as the second highest scoring team in the NCAA.
“More importantly, he was able to switch out on guards and played them,” Calipari said. “They couldn’t score on him. That’s a problem when you’re a guard and you think, ‘This guy can’t guard me’ and you try to drive right around him. Nine blocks, incredible what he did.”
Nine blocks may have been the only thing Cauley-Stein could have done to take the talk off his new hairstyle. Calipari, who compared the change to something Dennis Rodman would do, told Cauley-Stein before the game that he “better play, Willie.”
“I won’t do any of the crazy, weird things he (Rodman) did,” Cauley-Stein said. “I may dye my hair, but I ain’t wearing no wedding dress. He just did crazy things that make people think about him, and it’s like, you need to be focused about the game. Why are you focused on my hair?”
Blonde or not, Cauley-Stein’s appearance didn’t change the way he blocked shots, as he continues to match Davis’ monster pace. After all, Davis’ unibrow didn’t affect his defense either.
By KEITH TAYLOR, WINCHESTER SUN
LEXINGTON — Kentucky got the bounce-back game it desperately needed following last weekend’s disaster in Dallas.
The Wildcats, who fell from third to 11th in the Associated Press Top 25 after dropping a 67-62 loss to Baylor last weekend at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, recovered nicely and handed Boise State its first loss of the season 70-55 Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
The swagger the Cats lost in Texas, found its way back to Lexington and gave the team a renewed purpose going into the last three games of the non-conference schedule.
“We really needed this win,” said Kentucky guard James Young, who led the Wildcats with 21 points. “We don’t ever think we are going to lose here at Rupp. We don’t ever have our minds that we are going to lose. It is just not something we think about.”
Willie Cauley-Stein changed his hairstyle, going with a blonde look. He flirted with yet another triple double and did so with his presence in the post. Cauley-Stein finished with nine blocks and had five of those in the first half. He only scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds, but his dominance on defense more than makes up for his numbers on the offensive end of the court.
His biggest contribution was switching on defense, creating issues for Boise State’s guards, part of a Broncos unit that entered the contest as the second-highest scoring team in the nation. Boise State’s scoring took a rest against the Cats.
“We play small ball,” Boise State’s Anthony Drmic said. “They took advantage of that.”
Boise State coach Leon Rice compared Kentucky’s dominance in the post to playing a pick-up-game with his 10-year-old son in the driveway.
“We can do all the right things and try to battle, but they are just so physically strong,” he said. “I thought they were really, really dialed in, and I knew they would be.”
Calipari took note of his team’s active communicating on defense, which consistently limited the Broncos’ scoring production.
“(Cauley-Stein) was able to switch out on guards and play them,” he said. “They couldn’t score on him.”
Asserting himself as a leader, Cauley-Stein made sure the Wildcats stayed huddled up before shooting free throws, a point of emphasis Calipari made in his team’s last outing. To Calipari’s liking, Kentucky took the group sessions a step further against the Broncos.
“You notice? We huddled,” Calipari said. “How about this one — we touched each other, and in the huddle we touched one another. Touch and talk, that’s how you start to become a team and come together.”
Young added the Wildcats are doing more things behind the scenes to become a better unit.
“We are doing it (communicating) a lot during practice now,” Young said. “If you can see, like, after a free throw, we all touch each other and when you come off the court, everybody stands up and gives you a high-five. It is just the little stuff that is making us become better as a team.”
In addition to demonstrating better team chemistry, the Cats also fared better at the charity stripe. After making just 12-of-23 against Baylor, the Cats swished 12-of-18 against the Broncos. Kentucky also won the rebounding battle 43-27, another downfall in the Baylor debacle.
“We rebounded the ball and did some good stuff,” Calipari said.
Kentucky will attempt to defeat a ranked opponent for the first time this season Saturday at North Carolina. Calipari said the team remains “an everyday process” but likes the spacing in the scheduling following the trip to Chapel Hill.
“It’s going to be a hard game (at North Carolina), but the good news is, we have finals and we have time,” Calipari said. “We have time for whatever were going to do and changes we’re going to make.”
Calipari hopes the path to making those changes began Tuesday night.
Follow Keith Taylor on twitter @keithtaylor21.
By LARRY VAUGHT
So far this season, Kentucky has had more than its share of defensive pressure.
Can this be a good defensive team?
“We need to be. I don’t have any other thoughts. But we need to be a great defensive team. We don’t have team confidence right now. Team confidence. And the reason is because they’re not relying on each other, they’re not talking to each other and we’re not a great defensive team,” Calipari said Monday. “When you become a great defensive team and a rebounding team, and you take great pride in it – we’re not taking great pride in it. When you take great pride; like when we played Providence, Aaron (Harrison) took great pride and he guarded that kid and all the sudden the game changed.
“When you take great pride in your defense and your rebounding, you have confidence. You know, ‘We’re fine. They can make a couple crazy shots. We’re fine.’ We haven’t built that yet. And we’re just trying to get them to understand: That’s the only way you build it. They’ve never needed it before because, ‘I’m just going to do my thing and I’ll be fine.’ Now you have to change. So these are all habits they have to change.”
Does Kentucky have a stooper?
“Aaron has shown he can do it; James Young has shown he can do it. But you need a team full of guys who are guarding. I mean, it starts with your point guard,” Calipari said. “If he can’ t pressure the ball, then someone else has to be playing; that’s just how it is.
“It starts with your interior defense. Is Willie (Cauley-Stein) the only guy that’s going to block shots? Some guys just stand there: ‘I’m not involved in this.’ Well you can’t.
“Then the other thing is, as hard as we try to play offensively, then we gotta rebound the ball defensively the same way, because if we do run, we can get out and run. We’re not getting any easy baskets. When the other team gets that many offensive rebounds, why? Because they’re down ready to go and anxious to go get the ball and you’re like, ‘Well, I hope somebody grabs this.’ That’s all stuff we’re just learning.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Because he’s in better physical shape, sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein has “come a long way” since last season when he was the least heralded member of Kentucky’s recruiting class and a backup for Nerlens Noel.
“He’s in good enough shape he can continue to play. There have been times before, he’d just stand there and just let the guy drive in and like hold onto his guy and say, ‘Well, I was … I was holding my guy.’ Now he knows he can go get it,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Cauley-Stein had 15 points, nine blocks and eight rebounds against Providence Sunday.
“And then the second thing is, we’re doing a better job if he does leave to block out, cracking down and taking his man. But to have nine blocks in a game like this? Big-time. Big-time. And then to play the way he did and to run like a gazelle. Did you see him run the court? Oh, my gosh.”
Cauley-Stein has 31 blocks through eight games, or just five fewer than Anthony Davis did during his record-setting season two years ago. He’s almost averaging a double-double (9.6 points, 8.4 rebounds per game) and is shooting 60 percent from the field.
“I think just more aware. Like before in the past it was like I was hesitant on going (to block a shot),” Cauley-Stein, who has 17 blocks in the last two games going into Friday’s game against No. 20 Baylor. “Now I’m just going. Like coach said, ‘Don’t even worry about it. Try to go block every ball.’ So that’s what my game plan is coming into the game: just go try to block everything.”
Cauley-Stein says his improved offense is due in large part to his better play on defense this season.
“It definitely feeds off the defense, just flying around everywhere. It makes it where you’re not thinking about the offense. In the past that’s what I was doing: thinking about, like pre-thinking what move I need to do. Now, it’s just I’m reacting and just trying to go up,” Cauley-Stein said.
Teammates know how valuable Cauley-Stein has been.
“When Willie picks it up on defense, it just gives us the extra energy boost that we need. We clap, clap it up on defense, which really picks us up on defense,” freshman guard James Young said.
Freshman Dominique Hawkins says Cauley-Stein’s defense “sparks” the team.
“It makes us want to play defense better. To give the energy that he’s giving, we all want to give that same energy and we know that he probably has our backs as guards if somebody drives around us that he’s going to be on the help side to block their shot or change their shot or anything like that,” Hawkins said. “Running up and down the court has really been effective for him. I think he probably got at least two alley-oops a game just because he’s running up and down the court. And definitely he’s improving on his offensive game every day. If you ever watch practice, Willie, he’s always going as hard as he can and working on his post moves.”
Hawkins says Cauley-Stein is simply doing what Calipari is encouraging him to do on defense.
“He tells all the bigs to go after the shot block because that’s how team defense becomes better and he wants us to get the loose balls once the shot is blocked. So basically he’s telling Willie to be an effective shot-blocker,” Hawkins said.
Freshman Julius Randle, UK’s leading scorer and rebounder, says Cauley-Stein is embracing his role as a team leader.
“He’s maybe not going to say as much. He’s starting to become really vocal, but before anything he’s going to lead with his actions or how hard he plays,” Randle said. “You can tell that’s what he does by having nine blocks last game and then scoring the ball there at the end. He’s changing the game and making our team a lot better.”
Calipari said he asked players why Cauley-Stein has been playing so well and one answered that he was “not thinking” and was just playing. That was the wrong answer.
“The statement you don’t think, that’s not true. You got to think. He’s reacting better, and I’ll tell you why: because he’s practicing like crazy. He is attacking practices, which make the games easier,” Calipari said. “We have other guys that the practice is attacking them every day. One guy shut it down: ‘I can’t breathe!’ And they looked at his heart rate and it was at 82 percent. Well then you have a lung disease, OK?
“So it’s not — you just can’t push through the comfort level. There are times, I have a couple guys, their heart rate gets in the 90s and I tell them — they’ll tell me, ’94!’ Who? ‘Willie.’ Step off, Willie. Step off, Dominique.”
Calipari said Cauley-Stein is “going like there’s no tomorrow” at the last part of every drill compared to teammates who just want the drill to end.
“There’s a difference. You finish the drill; the hardest part is those last seven, eight seconds. ‘Ah!’ And those other guys are looking at the clock: ‘Can I get through it? The clock.’ Well, you’re not going to get better. What got you here, won’t get you there. You’ve gotta change,” Calipari said. “So some guys are changing. Willie’s changing. Other guys are not.
“Until they accept they’ve got to change, they won’t. But all in all, I’ve been really pleased. I’m dragging this team faster than they need to go, yet taking some things back to the very elementary that they needed to be doing when they got here.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein has 31 blocks in eight games to rank seventh nationally in blocks per game at 3.88. However, he has 17 in the last two games, including nine against Providence — or one more than Anthony Davis ever had in a game during his Player of the Year season at UK.
Kentucky also had a dominant shot blocker last season in Nerlens Noel, who has the single-game UK record with 12.
So how does coach John Calipari feel Cauley-Stein is doing filling the shot blocker role for UK this season?
“Well, he’s in good enough shape he can continue to play. There have been times before, he’d just stand there and just let the guy drive in and like hold onto his guy and say, ‘Well, I was – I was holding my guy.’ Now he knows he can go get it,” Calipari said.
“And then the second thing is, we’re doing a better job if he does leave to block out, cracking down and taking his man. But to have nine blocks in a game like this? Big-time. Big-time. And then to play the way he did and to run like a gazelle. Did you see him run the court? Oh, my gosh. We’re able to run – and you’re big guy runs and just throw it at the rim. But I’m proud of him. He’s come a long way.”
By Nick Nicholas
BROOKLYN – Willie Cauley-Stein arose on both ends of the Barclays Center floor Sundaynight to lead No. 3 Kentucky over Providence 79-65.
The 7-foot forward scored 15 points in 36 minutes of work, but more impressively accounted for eight rebounds and a career-high nine blocked shots against the Friars. Cauley-Stein made seven of eight shots, committed only one turnover and handed out an assist.
“The last couple of games have been pretty good,’’ said Cauley-Stein, who scored 15 points and had seven blocked shots during Wednesday’s 81-63 victory over Eastern Michigan. “I’m more aware (on the defensive end). Before in the past I was hesitant on going (for the block).’’
Added Kentucky coach John Calipari: “To have nine blocks in a game like this is big time. I’m proud of him. He’s come a long way. He’s playing harder longer. He’s never played this many minutes. We made a step up today.”
Kentucky improves to 7-1 and faces Baylor Friday night at 9 p.m. (ESPN) in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge contest at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“Credit Kentucky, they really got on the glass,’’ said Friars head coach Ed Cooley, whose team was out-rebounded 35-30. “I like their team. They are young and you can see they are growing every game. Their strength is their length.”
UK benefited from a balanced offensive attack with four players in double figures. Besides Cauley-Stein’s high-energy performance, James Young poured in a team-high 18 points followed by Aaron Harrison with 15 and Julius Randle with 12 points. Randle grabbed eight rebounds, ending his double-double string of seven games.
Providence’s 6-foot-1 senior guard Bryce Cotton kept the Friars (7-2) close. Cotton hit on five of nine three-pointers on his way to a game-high 23-point effort.
Cotton hit on 4-of-9 attempts in the first half, but finished the game hitting on 7-of-21.
Calipari credited Aaron Harrison’s defense on Cotton.
“Aaron Harrison changed the game,’’ Calipari said. “He wanted to guard him.’’
Overall, the Friars gave UK fits by making 10 of 19 three-pointers, but the Wildcats were just as deadly with less attempts, making six of eight three-pointers.
Moreover, the Wildcats shot 27 of 42 from the field for a sizzling 64.3 percent. In the second half, they made 11 of 16 from the field for 68.8 percent.
“(Coach Calipari) said to pick it up a little more in the second half,’’ Young said. “We didn’t have that fire (in the first half).’’
Kentucky jumped out to a 6-0 advantage and never relinquished the lead. Providence did close the gap, 39-38 following a Bryce Cotton three-pointer. Led by Cauley-Stein (six first-half points, four blocks), Young (9 points) and Andrew Harrison (11 points) the Wildcats enjoyed a 39-35 lead at halftime.
An 8-2 UK start in the second half was highlighted by two consecutive blocks by Cauley-Stein that started a Wildcat fast break. Young zipped a pass to Aaron Harrison who found Cauley Stein driving to the basket. The ball never touched the floor during the sequence until Cauley-Stein’s dunk caromed off the floor.
“I was extremely hyped and that was a good feeling,’’ Cauley-Stein said about the play. “When we pick it up on defense it gives us an extra energy boost.’’
Providence’s Cooley signaled a timeout much to the delight of most of the 8,086 in attendance. The Wildcats continued to build on the lead for the remaining 16:39 as Cauley-Stein dominated on both ends of the floor.
What has been a problem turned into a positive Sunday night. Kentucky made 19 of 25 free throws for 76.0 percent.
Providence started the game having difficulty finding its aim.
Kentucky jumped out to a 16-6 lead thanks to a nice drive by Aaron Harrison.
But midway through the first half the Friars began to gain confidence against the No.3-ranked team in the country.
The Wildcats ended the first half 16 of 26 shots from the field for 61.5 percent, compared to Providence’s 11 of 33 shooting for 33.3 percent.
JIM O’CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Willie Cauley-Stein had 15 points, eight rebounds and a career-high nine blocks to lead No. 3 Kentucky to a 79-65 victory over Providence on Sunday night at Barclays Center.
James Young scored 18 points and Aaron Harrison added 15 for the Wildcats (7-1), who shot 64.3 percent from the field (27 of 42) and led by as many as 17 points in the second half.
Bryce Cotton had 23 points for the Friars (7-2), who finished 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from 3-point range. They came into the game shooting just 29.4 percent from beyond the arc and were averaging only five 3s per game.
Kentucky, which had the majority of the crowd of 8,086 cheering for it, also had an exceptional game from 3-point range. The Wildcats were 6 of 8 from beyond the arc, decidedly better than the 28.9 percent they were shooting from there entering the game.
Julius Randle, the highest profile of the eight-man freshman class at Kentucky, scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He had a double-double in each of his seven games this season tying Jim Andrews in 1971-72 for the most by a Kentucky player at the start of a season. That streak is over.
The Wildcats finished with 11 blocks with Cauley-Stein doing most of the rejecting. Providence continued to go inside but the bigger Wildcats made it a rough trip and the Friars kept firing from long range.
Cauley-Stein was 7 of 8 from the field, while Harrison was 7 of 9 and Young 5 of 7 including going 3 of 4 from 3-point range for the Wildcats, whose only loss was as the No. 1 team in the nation to Michigan State, which moved up one spot to the top with the win.
This game started a December that will have the Wildcats face No. 18 Baylor, No. 16 North Carolina and No. 9 Louisville in addition to Boise State and Belmont.
Providence was without sophomore guard Kris Dunn who missed his second straight game with a right shoulder injury. No timetable has been set for his return. The Friars’ only loss this season was to Maryland in the championship game of the Paradise Jam.
This was the second meeting between the schools and the first was played across the East River. Kentucky beat Providence 79-78 in the 1976 NIT at Madison Square Garden.
No. 3 KENTUCKY 79, PROVIDENCE 65
Young 5-7 5-6 18, Randle 4-10 4-7 12, Cauley-Stein 7-8 1-1 15, Aa. Harrison 7-9 0-1 15, An. Harrison 0-2 8-8 8, Lee 0-0 0-0 0, Poythress 2-3 0-0 5, Hawkins 2-2 0-0 5, Willis 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 27-42 19-25 79.
Batts 3-14 1-3 8, Henton 1-4 4-4 7, Harris 4-13 1-3 10, Fortune 2-5 4-4 10, Cotton 7-21 4-5 23, Goldsbrough 0-0 0-0 0, Bancroft 0-0 0-0 0, Desrosiers 2-4 3-4 7. Totals 19-61 17-23 65.
Halftime_Kentucky 39-35. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 6-8 (Young 3-4, Hawkins 1-1, Poythress 1-1, Aa. Harrison 1-2), Providence 10-19 (Cotton 5-9, Fortune 2-5, Batts 1-1, Henton 1-1, Harris 1-3). Fouled Out_Batts, Henton. Rebounds_Kentucky 35 (Cauley-Stein, Randle 8), Providence 30 (Batts 8). Assists_Kentucky 12 (Aa. Harrison, Randle 4), Providence 8 (Cotton 5). Total Fouls_Kentucky 22, Providence 22. A_8,086.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — One given with Willie Cauley-Stein is that he’s going to be honest. Blunt honest.
“I would be the first to stay that I don’t play with the energy I did today all the time. I’ve got to keep sustaining that,” said Cauley-Stein.
He did here Wednesday as his overall play — season-high 15 points, eight rebounds and career-best seven blocked shots — helped No. 3 Kentucky beat Eastern Michigan 81-63.
Cauley-Stein got one of the best compliments about his play during the game from teammate Aaron Harrison after he came out to take a breather. “He said, ‘Bro, come back in. We need you,’” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s a good feeling to have a teammate want you on the court.”
Who wouldn’t want this energetic 7-foot sophomore on the court?
“He did a phenomenal job. Willie, in general, did a great job with his activity. He was all over the floor, going after loose balls, altering shots, protecting the paint,” Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said.
It didn’t even bother him that he again came off the bench while Marcus Lee started — and played less than a minute before Cauley-Stein came in.
“He was going to start today,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “(Assistant coach) John Robic screwed it up. Willie was going to start and he will start from here on.”
Guess what? Cauley-Stein didn’t care.
“I thought I was starting at the shootaround. At the team dinner before the game, I was not starting … I don’t know and don’t care,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’ve been playing well off the bench. It doesn’t bother me if I don’t start. If I do, hooray.”
He won’t deny hearing his name announced in the starting lineup as fireworks go off inside Rupp Arena is fun.
“Who doesn’t want that?” he said. “But it is good other guys get to hear their names (announced as starters).”
That’s the definition of a perfect teammate and one this team desperately needs. Cauley-Stein may not have always thought of himself as an energy guy, but his enthusiasm can be infectious on this team. He may not have always thought of himself as a veteran player, but on this team he is.
“Willie is playing well,” Calipari said after his team won despite going 3-for-16 from three point range and surviving a scoreless first half from Julius Randle. “He still faded away on a couple of shots that he didn’t need.
“The good news is he is really confident in himself shooting free throws. That makes a big difference in how you play because now you’ll be aggressive and try and score because you’re not afraid to get fouled.”
Cauley-Stein was 6-for-12 from the field — and teammates are getting a better feel each game for throwing him lob passes he turns into dunks — but only 3-for-7 from the foul line.
He says he’s “not really” scared at the foul line and has not been.
“But I can see why he says that,” Cauley-Stein said. “If I make them, I make them. If I miss, I miss and the game goes on. I had a good friend back home who told me just to step to the line and tell yourself you will make them, so that’s what I have been doing.”
What he’s also doing is sprinting the court, often beating Randle on the fast break to get the easy points that Calipari is telling Randle he needs to offset the double and triple teams he encounters — even though he overcame the one rebound, zero points first half to finish with a seventh straight double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).
“Willie is fast. Very fast. I don’t think you can know how fast he is until he gets out there,” Randle said.
“Coach tells us to pass (on the fast break) and he’s always the once inside there to get the ball,” guard Aaron Harrison, who had 22 points, seven rebounds and two assists, said. “He’s one of the fastest big men anywhere.
“He was everywhere today. He helped us all out. Anybody that got beat, he helped. He makes everybody’s job easier. We have a lot of great defenders, but we all can get beat. He never complains about his job and having to help us out.”
He was mad at himself going into the second half after getting seven points, three rebounds and two blocks the first half.
“I was thinking about anybody just following me. I was actually kind of mad at myself. The first half I missed some bunnies (easy shots), didn’t rebound. The second half I just went after everything.”
No one enjoyed seeing him do that more than Calipari. Unless it might have been his grandparents, who were heading back to Kansas after 10 days here after the game.
“I love that they came,” Cauley-Stein said. “They’ve been here about 10 days. They travel to see me and all their grandkids. I am thankful they are still trucking. It’s a good feeling to have family around.”
He won’t on Thanksgiving day — he’s going to a friend’s family Thanksgiving in Shelbyville — but he says he’ll survive just fine.
“As long as you are around a lot of food and people that care about you, it’s fine,” Cauley-Stein said. “Back home we had, what do you call them, pot-lucks where everybody just lined up food. That’s what we grew up having. It would be fun to go back (home), but people here are having a family dinner.”
Then it will be back to basketball as Kentucy gets set to play Providence in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sunday night and will need more of Cauley-Stein’s energy.
“My job is to start doing what I did the second half from the get-go,” he said. “I need to provide that from the start, and there’s no reason I can’t.”