UK-Texas A&M notes: Cauley-Stein's struggles giving Johnson chance to step up

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 22, 2014 

The seesaw effect with Kentucky's two 7-footers continued in the 68-51 victory over Texas A&M on Tuesday night. Willie Cauley-Stein continued to struggle, while Dakari Johnson was increasingly productive.

"I don't know what's wrong with Willie," UK Coach John Calipari said after the game. "But he'll be fine."

Cauley-Stein had one point and one rebound. That gave him three points and 10 rebounds in his last three games.

Meanwhile, Johnson had seven rebounds, his most since getting seven against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 27. He also scored six points and blocked a career-high three shots in a career-high 24 minutes.

Calipari started Johnson in the second half.

"Dakari played better," he said, "so I started Dakari. ...

"You coach to win. Then you work on egos."

'Best passing guard'

Although he doesn't have compelling statistics (9.1 ppg), Texas A&M guard Alex Caruso makes an impression.

To appreciate Caruso's contributions, A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said, "You really have to watch him."

Caruso, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, caught UK Coach John Calipari's eye last season, Kennedy said. In two games (40 total minutes), he had six assists, four steals and six rebounds. "That white boy you got can really play," Kennedy said Calipari told him.

Caruso attained his 200th career assist last weekend at Mississippi State. His three steals against UK moved his career total to 101.

Caruso, whose father Mike Caruso played for Eddie Sutton at Creighton, will become the fifth Aggie player to achieve the 200-100 combination in two seasons.

To explain Caruso's productivity (88 assists, 40 turnovers this season), Kennedy cited "his passion. His ability to defend different positions. He sees things on the floor nobody else sees. I believe he's the best passing guard in the league."

Caruso was considered a mid-major prospect as a high school player in College Station (his father works for A&M as associate athletics director for events and game operations).

"The more I saw him, the more I saw his experience and his feel for the game and his athleticism," Kennedy said. "He's one of our toughest kids."

Short arms?

An ESPN analyst said Monday night that Julius Randle had short arms, which might make it difficult for him to score over defenders in the NBA.

To which Randle said, "I'm playing against tall defenders, what's my shooting percentage?"

He had made 54.1 percent of his shots going into the A&M game. He made four of six shots against the Aggies.

Before/after

One of Elston Turner's vivid memories of last season's A&M-Kentucky game was something he observed before the game.

"I remember nobody other than our guys in the locker room believing that we can win that game," he said in an email message.

Turner's 40 points that game helped the Aggies beat UK 83-71. He became only the third opponent to score 40 or more against the Cats in Rupp Arena.

"I definitely had the whole country paying attention to me after that game," he said. "Defenses forced me to get rid of the ball by double- and triple-teaming me."

Turner, who plays for a professional team in Italy this season, said he has a rooting interest in A&M.

"Not just basketball, but all sports," he said. "I have a lot of close friends at school still. I watch college basketball every chance I get, but it is tough with the time difference."

There is a seven-hour time difference between College Station, Texas, and Turner's new home in Pesaro, Italy.

Johnny Basketball?

When asked about Johnny Manziel (a.k.a. Johnny Football) playing for the Texas A&M basketball team, Kennedy said. "I was more interested in Mike Evans, the wide receiver."

Evans, who declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, is listed at 6-5, 225. As a high school senior, he averaged 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists.

Manziel, who is (generously?) listed at 6-1, has been helpful in basketball. "Johnny's been great for our program," Kennedy said. "Being available when we have recruits (on visits)."

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

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