What was called a "minor procedure" on Willie Cauley-Stein's left knee may reduce Kentucky's size advantage at Auburn on Saturday night by 7 feet.
UK Coach John Calipari downplayed the significance of the repair work on Cauley-Stein's knee on the team's long-term goals this season. The 7-foot freshman apparently had been playing with discomfort not only this season but for several seasons.
Since Cauley-Stein was in junior high school, Calipari said.
"An old thing he never did anything about," Calipari said. "The last couple weeks it just happened to where, all right, let's go. We're one short for a short while. Thank God it was nothing major."
Cauley-Stein's football and basketball coaches at Northwest High school in Olathe, Kan., said he never missed a game in either sport.
Mike Grove, the Northwest High basketball coach, suggested that Cauley-Stein might have needed a repair of a meniscus tear. If so, the player probably would not be sidelined more than five to seven days, he said.
Calipari said Cauley-Stein was "walking around" on Friday, but would sit out that day's practice.
Todd Dain, the Northwest High football coach, all but scoffed at the idea of Cauley-Stein being hampered by an injury dating to junior high.
"He didn't have one problem with a knee," Dain said. "He had a very strong lower body and took a million shots to the knee in football and never faltered. I never knew of any nagging knee injury when he played for me."
UK had been alert to any possible problems for about two weeks, Calipari said. During a recent day-of-the-game shootaround, Cauley-Stein abruptly stopped participating.
The UK coach made the procedure on Cauley-Stein sound more precautionary than necessary.
"We didn't have to do anything," he said. "'You're fine. Put a sleeve on and let's go.'
"But, as you know, that's not how we operate here. If I (err), I'm going to (err) on the side of the kid. Let's just be safe."
While cautioning reporters not to assume Cauley-Stein will miss the game at Auburn, Calipari said, "He'll probably come back in a short period, and he'll be rested and ready to go, I'd imagine."
Auburn, which starts only one player (6-foot-10 center Rob Chubb) taller than 6-6, would welcome Cauley-Stein's absence.
This week, wing Allen Payne spoke of the Tigers' desire to draw fouls on UK's big men by getting the ball to Chubb in the basket area.
"Maybe get them to where they're playing with one 7-footer instead of two," he said.
Chubb has posted double-doubles in each of Auburn's last two games.
"Chubb is in a good rhythm right now," Allen said. "We have to try to ride him and Frankie (Sullivan) out."
Calipari acknowledged that the procedure on Cauley-Stein's knee reduces UK's size advantage against Auburn. In its first three Southeastern Conference games, Auburn has been outrebounded 35.7-33.7. Coincidentally, SEC opponents have outrebounded Kentucky by the same margin.
"That size helps you in this kind of game," Calipari said before adding, "But we'll see."
Kentucky players spoke of a collective effort to compensate for Cauley-Stein's possible absence.
"I mean, I'll definitely step up," Kyle Wiltjer said. "A lot of guys are going to step up to help our team. We're ready for the challenge."
Wiltjer did just that against Tennessee on Tuesday. With Cauley-Stein playing only 15 minutes (his third-lowest total of the season), Wiltjer scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds, setting and equaling personal highs for SEC play.
Ryan Harrow suggested that Wiltjer might still come off the bench to provide a scoring spark. He noted that Alex Poythress might get more time at power forward in Cauley-Stein's absence.
Auburn, 8-8 (6-3 at home), might be relatively small. But UK spoke of the Tigers as a team looking to impose its will.
"I know they play physically, and it was a tough game last year," Harrow said. Auburn held its own last season before Kentucky pulled away late.
As was the case last season, opponents try to muscle a freshman-dependent Kentucky.
"They're going to come out for us," Harrow said, "and, you know, try to beat us up."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com