BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Although Kentucky broke its habit of slow starts Sunday night, John Calipari claimed to be oblivious. The UK coach said he didn't pay special attention to the score as his team took a double-digit lead inside the first six minutes en route to a not-all-that-easy 79-65 victory over Providence.
"I didn't look up at the score probably the first 12 minutes of the game," Calipari said, "because I can't worry about winning and losing right now. I just have to worry about these guys playing the right way."
Playing with intensity. Communicating on defense. Getting a solid majority of what he calls 50/50 balls.
Calipari liked what he saw.
The UK coach chastised himself for being overly fixated on winning. He called the unhappiness that comes with a victory by non-blowout proportions "the stupid part of me."
Despite playing without point guard Kris Dunn, Providence refused to be blown out. The Friars met their goals of being competitive on the boards (UK won the rebounding, but only 35-30) and, therefore, limiting Kentucky's fastbreak opportunities (the Cats officially had only six fastbreak points).
Kentucky, 7-1, rode execution to a season-high 64.3-percent shooting accuracy. Calipari credited a less-is-more philosophy for UK's best shooting since 67.7 percent against LIU Brooklyn on Nov. 29, 2012.
"We didn't shoot as many threes," he said.
Kentucky shot eight times from beyond the arc. That marked only the eighth time in Calipari's five seasons that UK took less than 10 three-point shots.
UK needed to be judicious in its three-point shooting given its superiority around the basket (36-14 advantage in points from the paint) and an opponent that rebounded tenaciously (18 offensive rebounds), made free throws (17 of 23) and turned over the ball only six times (fewest by a UK opponent since Vanderbilt had five in dispatching the Cats from the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament).
"So you better shoot a high percentage or you're going to lose," Calipari said.
The UK coach seemed especially pleased with how his freshman-dependent team played in the game's final minutes, when he presumably was more attentive to the time and score.
Providence, 7-2, kept competing, but couldn't narrow the margin to single digits the final nine minutes.
"I love how we ended the game," Calipari said. "We grounded it out like a team that's been doing it for two years. We ground it out and made the plays and got fouled."
UK shot only eight free throws in the game's first 29 minutes, then shot 17 in the final 11:07.
"I was so proud of them how they finished (the game)," he said.
After his latest flirtation with a triple-double, Willie Cauley-Stein credited less thinking.
He scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked a career-high nine shots. He increased his season total of blocks to 31, or just five fewer than Anthony Davis blocked in the first eight games of the 2011-12 season or more than half of Cauley-Stein's total of 60 for last season.
"I think just more aware," he said of his blossoming as a shot-blocker (16 in the last two games). "Before, in the past, I was hesitant in going (after blocks). Now, I'm just going. Coach said don't even worry about it. Go try to block every ball, and that's what my game plan is."
Cauley-Stein cited a similar devil-may-care attitude for a recent uptick in offensive production. He's scored double-digit points in four straight games, averaging 13.8 in that span.
"It definitely feeds off defense," he said. "Just flying around everywhere. It makes it more like you're not thinking of the offense. In the past, that's what I was doing, like pre-thinking what move I need to do. Now, I'm just reacting."
Attendance was announced at 8,086, which might be the smallest crowd to see UK play this season.
To put that number in perspective, a capacity crowd of 17,732 saw UK beat Maryland in the Barclays Center to open the 2012-13 season.
And double-headers Friday and Saturday drew crowds of 4,231 and 3.088. Participating teams were St. John's, Penn State, Georgia Tech and Ole Miss.
Calipari dismissed speculation of being a candidate to coach the woeful New York Knicks.
"It took me 20 years to get a job like Kentucky," he said. " ... Now, I'll say this: I don't know how long I can stay in the seat and live. I'll be honest with that one. But right now, I'm having fun doing it."
Kentucky vs. Baylor
When: 10 p.m.
What: Big 12/SEC Challenge
Where: Arlington, Texas
Records: UK 7-1; Baylor 7-1