Cauley-Stein blocks 9 shots in Cats' 79-65 win over Providence

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 1, 2013 

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — In case anyone missed the obvious, the public address announcer made it clear when announcing the starting lineups. A routine reading of Providence starters preceded the announcement of a lineup for "YOUR KENTUCKY WILDCATS!!!"

Yes, Kentucky played Providence in a home-away-from-home game in the Barclays Center on Sunday night.

Despite a partisan advantage so far from home and season-best shooting, Kentucky's 79-65 victory took a while to materialize.

Julius Randle failed to record a double-double for the first time this season. His 12 points and eight rebounds left him tied with Jim Andrews (1971-72) for the school record of seven straight to start a season.

Maybe more conspicuously, Kentucky did not live at the foul line. Coming into the game averaging 38.6 free throws, the Cats shot only six through the first 25 minutes.

Willie Cauley-Stein loomed large as Kentucky improved to 7-1. He scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked nine shots. Cauley-Stein increased his block total to 31, which was only five shy of Anthony Davis' rejections through eight games.

"Just more aware," Cauley-Stein said of his shot-blocking. "Before, in the past, I was hesitant on going (for blocks). Now I'm just going."

UK Coach John Calipari noted how far Cauley-Stein has come: from anything but a one-and-doner to tower of strength early his sophomore season.

"What is Willie doing different? He's playing harder longer," Calipari said. "I'm proud of 'Willie Cauley.'"

Then saying of himself in a mocking tone, "'He only gets one-and-done guys.'

"No one knew about 'Willie Cauley.' ... I'm proud of him. He's come a long way."

Except for a flurry by Providence's leading scorer, guard Bryce Cotton, Kentucky kept tentative control.

Providence, 7-2, played without point guard Kris Dunn, who is nursing a shoulder injury. Before the game, Friars' Coach Ed Cooley called Dunn's absence a "major, major blow."

That made Cotton the primary ball-handler as well as scorer.

Cooley offered a three-pronged answer to what identity he wanted for his team: Gritty, unselfish and disciplined defensively.

Two out of three? Not bad, but not good enough to beat Kentucky.

UK's 64.3-percent shooting marked its best accuracy since a 67.7-percent game against LIU Brooklyn on Nov. 23, 2012. Maybe one reason was the Cats took only eight three-point shots.

"Their strength is their length," Cooley said of the Cats. "Randle is a load in there."

James Young led the Cats with 18 points. Aaron Harrison added 15.

Kentucky never trailed. Nor did UK throw a knockout punch.

Given the Cats' 61.5-percent shooting in the first half, the latter was surprising. Cotton's belated scoring and mild UK foul trouble contributed to the four-point margin.

Cotton, who led the Big East in scoring last season, scored 23 points. He missed his first four shots and went scoreless through the first 11 minutes-plus. Coincidentally or not, he scored all of his 13 first-half points after Andrew Harrison went to the bench with his second foul at the 10:10 mark. Harrison and his twin brother Aaron used their five-inch height advantage to contain Cotton.

But Cotton looked markedly more comfortable when the 6-foot Dominique Hawkins became his defender. Cotton scored his first points with a three at the 8:47 mark.

The Providence coach dismissed UK's backcourt size as a factor.

"I thought he got every look he wanted to get," Cooley said of Cotton. "I didn't see the length bother him."

But UK's length could bother just about everyone later this season, he said.

"When those kids mature, they can be scary," the Providence coach said. "They can be really, really scary."

Cotton added a light-hearted comment. "I been this short all my life," he said with a soft smile. "I'm sort of used to it."

Providence also met its goal of keeping Kentucky off the foul line. The Cats took only six first-half foul shots.

Providence, which trailed by as much as 10 points three times in the first 11 minutes, tied it at 35-35 on another Cotton three-pointer with 2:16 left.

Aaron Harrison kept Kentucky ahead. His lob netted a Cauley-Stein dunk to enable the Cats to regain the lead.

After a Cotton miss, Aaron Harrison capped his 11-point half with a floater that set the score at intermission.

The difficulties for Andrew Harrison and Kentucky bled into the opening minutes of the second half. Harrison went to the bench with 18:36 left when he charged.

Instead of Cotton seizing on Hawkins again, Kentucky took charge.

Cauley-Stein led the way. He scored six of UK's first eight points, most memorably with the lead at 45-38. The only non-freshman starter for UK blocked back-to-back shots, then beat all the "bigs" downcourt for a fast-break dunk that gave the Cats a nine-point margin with 16:40 left.

"I was extremely hyped," Cauley-Stein said of the block/block/dunk sequence. "It was a good feeling."

Down the stretch, Kentucky sealed the victory with possession-by-possession basketball that belied the reality of a freshman-dependent team.


Friday

Kentucky vs. Baylor

When: 10 p.m.

What: Big 12/SEC Challenge

Where: Arlington, Texas

Records: UK 7-1; Baylor 7-1

TV: ESPN

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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