John Clay: Another block party for newly blond Willie Cauley-Stein

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 11, 2013 

From crisis comes change.

Or a change in hair color.

With the newly bleached blond Willie Cauley-Stein swatting away nine shots and James Young firing in 21 points and Julius Randle jumping back on the double-double train, Kentucky got back on track with a 70-55 win over previously unbeaten Boise State on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.

It was the second nine-block game for the sophomore Cauley-Stein, who did the same against Providence on Dec. 1. It was Cauley-Stein's first nine-block game as a blond, however.

The quirky Kansan sported a blond patch in his hair down in Texas last weekend, but after UK fell apart down the stretch and dropped a 67-62 decision to the Bears at cavernous AT&T Stadium, Cauley-Stein went for it all — all-blond, that is — as part of crisis management.

Crisis in December?

When you are home of the "greatest tradition in the history of college basketball," every loss is a crisis.

Cauley-Stein's teammates did a better job of going for it, as well. Young scored 17 points in the first half. Randle ended up with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the game. The Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, scored 13 points each.

Even better, after being badly outrebounded by the Bears, the Cats dominated the smaller Broncos on the glass by a count of 43-27. UK had 11 offensive rebounds to just 13 defensive boards for Boise.

"I was talking to another coach who had played them," said Leon Rice, the Boise State coach. "He told me 'You need to simulate a 7-foot-1 guy who can move around and block shots.' I'm not sure I know how to do that."

That is one thing we know about this young Kentucky basketball team, it can use its size and length to overwhelm an opponent.

A team that plays four guards, Boise came into the game second in the nation in scoring, averaging 92 points. Boise ended up scoring 37 points below that.

"I knew coming in here we had to play an A-plus game, a perfect game," Rice said. "We have to play the right away against them and we slid away from that."

Boise ended up shooting just 31.9 percent for the game, including 22.9 in the second half. Boise took 17 three-pointers. It hit five.

Kentucky played poorly against the pick-and-roll against Baylor. Boise doesn't have the size to be a pick-and-roll team, but Kentucky switched on nearly every Broncos screen and managed to stick with it defensively.

After failing to come up with a single steal in Dallas — the first time that had happened to a Kentucky team in six years — the Cats had four steals on Tuesday. After failing to score a fast-break point against Baylor, the Cats scored 10 on Tuesday.

"They were dialed-in, they were focused defensively," Rice said. "And when they did make a mistake they made up for it with their hustle plays."

There were blemishes. The Cats had just seven assists compared to 19 turnovers. John Calipari used his bench more than he did last Friday, but the 47 minutes by the reserves failed to produce a point.

Still, a 15-point win over a team that returned five starters from a 2013 NCAA Tournament team should at least erase some of the memory from the Dallas debacle.

Debacle?

Well, when your coach proclaims "We are college basketball," then every loss is a debacle.

And there were those who thought Cauley-Stein's new 'do was a debacle judging from the Internet reaction to a picture that was leaked out early in the afternoon.

When the game began, however, Cauley-Stein was swatting and running the floor and providing the energy that seemed to be missing down in Dallas.

Saturday's trip to North Carolina will be a much different challenge. The Tar Heels will have size — and the home-court advantage. We will see how UK's new look travels.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: jclay@herald-leader.com. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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