NASHVILLE — The player who can most affect a basketball game without scoring also wants to score.
Willie Cauley-Stein was selected as SEC Defensive Player of the Year by the league's coaches this week. He was honored. And he was annoyed.
People seem to think all he can do is play defense.
"That drives me nuts," he said Tuesday.
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In his mind, not only can the 7-foot Cauley-Stein guard smaller players out on the floor, he can score from out on the floor. Not only can Cauley-Stein swat away shots, he can make shots.
Then Friday afternoon, in the first game of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament, the Kansas native got nine shots and made just two.
Not to fear, Kentucky won anyway. The Cats shot just 37.5 percent, but beat Florida for the third time this season, on this particular occasion by the score of 64-49.
Afterward, John Calipari wasn't happy with his team's energy — UK trailed 10-5, forcing the head coach to call a timeout just 3:34 into the game — and said some adjustments had to be made to combat Florida's pick-and-roll which was effective in the game's early stages.
As for Cal's players, they seemed happy to get through the first game of the postseason. Calipari's teams have never really liked early starting times and this was a grind-it-out, physical affair.
"The postseason is always more physical," said sophomore guard Andrew Harrison, who scored nine points and recorded a couple of steals. "We know that."
Florida doesn't really have a big man. Kentucky has an endless supply. It made sense then to play from the inside out, to dump the ball inside as much as possible to the post players, who would then hopefully capitalize on the height advantage.
Karl-Anthony Towns, 6-11 freshman, got 10 shots and hit five. Trey Lyles, the 6-10 freshman who can be effective out on the floor, got eight shots, but made only one. Then there was Cauley-Stein, who got the third-most shots he's had in a game all season.
"That's kind of supposed to happen a lot," Cauley-Stein said. "Some games I don't do it. But I've had a lot of meetings with Coach and that's one of the things I'm going to have to do if we're going to make a run is I'm going to have to start scoring the ball."
Never mind that the current UK version is 32-0, what Cauley-Stein wants to do is what Calipari has been preaching of late, getting each of his talented players to be the "best version of himself."
For Cauley-Stein, that means expanding his offensive game. He has progressed light years from the gangly freshman who relied on tips and dunks, but he is still in the process of changing his mindset.
"That's kind of the only thing in my head when I'm playing is if I get it, try to score it," he said. "At least shoot it. Somebody's going to get the rebound if I miss."
Did Cauley-Stein feel like he missed shots Friday around the basket that he normally makes?
"Definitely. All of them," he answered. "All of those shots. I probably take 150 a day. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't."
And when shots fall, Cauley-Stein said it helps at the other end of the floor.
"Like at the beginning of the year, I was scoring a lot," he said. "That gooses me on defense. The next thing you know, I'm dominating the whole game. If you can do that, our team looks scary."
That's what he wants to do, dominate the "whole" game.
"I'm a ballplayer," Cauley-Stein said Friday. "It's annoying when people just say you're a defensive player. I feel like I can do anything on the floor. You just got to go show people.
"And at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. If you do show it, it's just going to be like, 'He got lucky that game.' If you started a season like that (playing great defense) people aren't going to give you the credit for it. You've got to stay within yourself and know that you can do something."
Kentucky's hoping for a long postseason run in which Cauley-Stein shows he can.