Kentucky finds its 'defensive confidence' in whipping Ole Miss

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 5, 2014 

John Calipari and Willie Cauley-Stein boiled down Kentucky's 80-64 victory over Ole Miss on Tuesday night to a matter of confidence.

Kentucky had it, thanks in large part to Cauley-Stein's revived self-esteem. His six blocks helped the Cats limit Ole Miss to 38.5-percent shooting accuracy (the Rebels' fifth-worst of the season).

Ole Miss had confidence, too, thanks to seeing Missouri drive repeatedly to the basket for layups against Kentucky last weekend.

Calipari noted that the foul trouble that limited Cauley-Stein to seven minutes at Missouri contributed to the many drives.

"It was a little different today," the UK coach said after the Ole Miss game. "We end up with 12 blocks because they just thought they could drive it."

The 12 blocks were a season high for Kentucky, and the most by the Cats since rejecting 13 at Ole Miss last season. So in the last two meetings, Kentucky has blocked 25 Ole Miss shots. That includes a school-record 12 by Nerlens Noel last season.

Earlier this season, Cauley-Stein was on a pace similar to Noel and Anthony Davis the previous two seasons. Then he went dormant, blocking only 12 shots in the first eight Southeastern Conference games, and that included the six against Georgia.

"There is such a thing as defensive confidence," Calipari said. "He didn't have that at Missouri. He left early. He was antsy. He left his feet on 6-foot guys and fouled.

"But today he had it."

Cauley-Stein, who also scored a season-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, said that Calipari had stressed confidence.

"I had to get that confidence back on defense, and everything else would turn out for itself just in the flow of the game," he said. "He was right. I was watching film of myself (Monday night) on my defensive presence and trying to get my timing back on blocking shots and everything else. It was a difference-maker."

Cauley-Stein suggested a dip in confidence should not be viewed as self-doubt.

"I know how good I can be," he said. "It's just that I'm young. You know what I'm saying? I'm young. I'm still figuring out myself. But once it starts to click, I think I will be all right."

Ole Miss, which had gotten an average of 38 points a game from starting guards Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers, struggled to score. Switching on screens, UK always had a taller defender on either of the guards. And with Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson (four blocks) around the basket, there weren't many scoring opportunities in the lane, either.

Noting that Henderson and Summers shot a combined 10-for-31, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said, "We just couldn't get clean looks over the top."

In two games against Kentucky, Henderson has made 11 of 37 shots (six of 23 from three-point range).

Henderson's final shot in Rupp Arena was memorable. He drove to the basket, only to get the shot engulfed by Cauley-Stein. The crowd roared at the sight of seeing one of its heroes reject the game's designated villain.

"It was incredible," Alex Poythress said of Cauley-Stein's performance. "I was so happy to see him out of his little funk. I hope he can sustain it for the next game."

Two-man game

Calipari noted how he's challenging Aaron Harrison with the prospect of coming off the bench. In such a scenario, Poythress would start.

"I was going to start (Poythress) last game," the UK coach said, "and then the night before I decided not to because I like what he's doing right now (off the bench), and the challenge of it made Aaron play better."

Fostering a diligent approach is the point of making a starting position up for grabs.

"I want the guys to know that they are responsible for their performance," Calipari said. "More importantly, they're responsible for their effort and their desire and their passion. They are responsible. I am not.

"You don't bring it, someone else plays."

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

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