After a memorable night of personal redemption, freshman Karl-Anthony Towns spent Wednesday comforting his mother. He was in Piscataway, N.J., to be with his mother, Jacqueline. Her father, Michael Cruz, passed away at age 76 last Friday.
"They've been inseparable all day," the player's father, Karl Towns, said. "He loves his mom. That's his favorite girl."
The elder Towns expressed gratitude for how the UK basketball staff arranged for Towns to be with his family for Wednesday's funeral service. Towns was expected to return to UK Wednesday night.
"Karl played both games with a heavy heart," the player's father said of UK's victories at Florida on Saturday and at LSU on Tuesday.
Towns excelled in both games, scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds at Florida, then posting a double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds) at LSU.
The LSU game's drama, and Towns' center-stage presence, helped his mother's grieving process. "That kept her mind off her dad," the elder Towns said.
A technical foul on Towns for chinning himself on the rim radically switched momentum in LSU's favor. The gaffe came with 10:39 left in the second half and Kentucky leading 60-52. Barely three minutes later, LSU led 66-60.
Towns redeemed himself in the game's final minutes by making shots, getting steals, grabbing key rebounds. "Big-time plays I needed to make," he said.
Towns credited his teammates for this riveting bit of athletic redemption. "My brothers were all behind me, especially my brother to my left," he said, meaning Willie Cauley-Stein, the other UK player at the post-game news conference.
"Just mentoring me this whole time," Towns said of Cauley-Stein's influence. "Just got me mentally strong for situations like this."
The elder Towns saluted Cauley-Stein's leadership.
"It means a lot to a parent and to (Towns)," the player's father said. "Willie knows the ups and downs a kid goes through. He and Willie are like brothers. Like inseparable. . . . It's like a vet taking in his little brother and letting him know the ins and outs of college basketball.
"Willie already has made the transition. Karl is in the transition stage."
Towns' game appears to be evolving rapidly. He's scored double-digit points in each of the last four games (averaging 14.5 points in that span) and grabbed an average of 8.8 rebounds.
"It's just clicking," the elder Towns said. "People can see there are so many different aspects. He's really a problem (for foes) now."
Cauley-Stein described the wisdom he imparted as reminding Towns not to dwell on mistakes, even one as glaring as the technical foul at LSU.
"It's all mental," Cauley-Stein said. "So you make a mistake. You can't think of the mistake you just made. It's over. Let's see what I can do to make up for the mistake.
"If you keep thinking (of the mistake), then you make another mistake. Now, it's the snowball effect."
Towns did just that, which "changes the whole complexion," Cauley-Stein said. "Everybody forgets about the mistake you just made."
The elder Towns, a coach himself, understood and welcomed how UK Coach John Calipari benched and vehemently scolded the UK freshman for getting the technical foul. Twice when LSU subsequently scored, Calipari directed outsized, arm-pumping gestures at Towns as if to say, See what you did?
"I love Cal," the elder Towns said. "I love every coach, but I love Cal. Cal is doing what he has to do to make my son a better player. It's a learning process."
After the game, Calipari seemed to attribute Towns' hanging on the rim long enough to get a technical foul to youthful exuberance. "Stuff he does right now," the UK coach said, meaning often enough in practice to be noticed.
On his radio show Wednesday night, Calipari said that Towns hung on the rim because he had just missed a dunk. "Got to do something," Calipari said. "Out of desperation."
A happy ending for Towns and Kentucky made for a worthwhile, if sometimes anxious, night of basketball.
"Oh, I loved it," the elder Towns said of an eventful victory that featured his son. "I loved the way the team fought back, and I loved the way Karl delivered and made big plays at the end."