When asked about freshmen hitting a metaphorical wall this time of the season, Willie Cauley-Stein grunted.
"Huh," he said. "There's no — how can I say this? — there's no chance to hit a freshman wall here."
Kentucky freshmen apparently are immune to the kind of sensory overload that long ago led to the perception that first-year players become worn down mentally and physically by February. There's too much at stake, plus Coach John Calipari is too much of a hard-charger. Fatigue is a luxury at UK.
"You can't afford to hit a freshman wall," Cauley-Stein said Friday. "I don't think Cal's going to allow that to happen."
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So how does Calipari trump what could be considered a freshman's natural reaction to intensity on an unprecedented level?
"I don't know what a freshman's wall is," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't think it's possible to hit it here. He'll make sure that in practice you don't hit a freshman wall."
Cal a fan of Barbee
Auburn Coach Tony Barbee played for Calipari at UMass and later served as an assistant on Calipari's staffs at UMass and Memphis. Apparently, Barbee continues to help his mentor on occasion.
Calipari credited Barbee for how well Kentucky defended the SEC's leading scorer, Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, who made only five of 19 shots against the Cats last week.
"He convinced me to switch out on that kid every time," Calipari said of a conversation he had with Barbee the night before UK played at Ole Miss.
That the two lean on each other occasionally for support and advice will make Saturday's Auburn-UK game a potentially bittersweet experience for Calipari.
"If we lose, I'm going to be sick," the UK coach said. "If we win, I'm happy. Then I look at him and I'm not happy. So I don't get to enjoy the game."
Calipari suggested Auburn might play a zone defense throughout the game. "And it's a good zone," he said.
Freshman Archie Goodwin has made one of 19 three-point shots in the last 10 games. His one three-point basket came almost a month ago (against Texas A&M on Jan. 12).
Point guard Ryan Harrow has been only a bit more accurate: seven of 27 (25.9 percent) against SEC teams.
Conversely, Julius Mays (51.2 percent) and Kyle Wiltjer (36.1 percent) have given Kentucky a credible perimeter shooting threat in league play.
When the teams played at Auburn on Jan. 19, the Tigers made none of their 15 three-point shots. That made Auburn the first UK opponent since 2001 not to make at least one three-point shot (Mississippi State shot zero-for-19 against the Cats on Feb. 10, 2001).
Julius Mays credited good defense, but that's not how Barbee saw it.
Noting the "ton of open shots" missed, the Auburn coach said, "Hopefully we'll shoot it a lot better."
Shot blocker Nerlens Noel and Cauley-Stein make scoring around the basket difficult for UK opponents.
"At the end of the day, you have to make jump shots," Barbee said, "because that's what they're going to give you. Like in the first game, if you don't make them, you don't win."
Kentucky won 75-53.
WCS: unwitting energy
Cauley-Stein did not embrace the notion that he consciously sought to provide energy off the bench.
"Not really," he said of his 13-point, six-rebound performance against South Carolina on Tuesday. "I wasn't really thinking about it. But if you went back and watched film, then it showed. When you're out there, you don't really think about it."
Auburn might be tied with Tennessee for 10th place in the SEC. Auburn might have the league's second-worst Ratings Percentage Index, according to CBSSports.com: No. 203. Mississippi Sate has the lowest RPI at No. 232.
Still, Calipari sounded wary. He noted how Arkansas lost at South Carolina by 21 points 10 days before beating first-place Florida by a double-digit margin.
"We're all the same," Calipari said of SEC teams.
Apparently, Elston Turner's 40-point performance at UK in January made for a lasting memory. Of Auburn's leading scorer, Frankie Sullivan, Calipari said, "Sullivan could score 40. (pause) I shouldn't have said that." Auburn beat Alabama 49-37 on Wednesday despite Sullivan making only one of 13 shots. . . . Dave Baker and Kara Lawson will call the game for the SEC network.