Given the two teams modus operandi, no surprise that Kentucky's 63-51 victory over Texas Friday night was more riveting stomp than routine romp.
UK and UT played to form. The game was decided on heart, muscle, sweat and want-to.
"That was a big-boy game," Texas Coach Rick Barnes said.
Just the kind of game that used to turn Willie Cauley-Stein into Willie Couldn't-Stand. He used to be known for wilting in the face of physical play.
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Barnes said the game could serve as an argument for a wider NBA-sized lane. All the big men needed more room to operate. But Cauley-Stein looked like he was home on the Great Plains (Olathe, Kan., to be specific).
He scored a career-high 21 points, posted season-highs of 12 rebounds and five steals and blocked three shots.
"He affected the game every way you can affect it," Barnes said.
To explain so bountiful a performance in a game that looked like it was played in a crowded subway car, Cauley-Stein credited — a ha — determination.
"It just goes back to working on it," he said. "I think I finally accepted that I've got to do that."
Of course, Cauley-Stein bypassed this year's NBA Draft, in part, because he wanted to improve in such settings.
"One of the biggest reasons I came back: to develop myself more as a basketball player," he said. "I think I'm doing that."
Kentucky and Texas ranked first and ninth nationally in points allowed, and this game showed why. With so many shot blockers on both teams, scoring was difficult around the basket.
"I don't know if I've ever coached in a game where the size and strength and 'physicality' was what it was," Barnes said.
For a second straight game, Kentucky struggled to make a three-point shot. The Cats missed their first 11 attempts before Andrew Harrison hit the Cats' one and only trey with 2:46 left.
A rugged first half saw many more fouls (25) than baskets (15). The 20-minute slugfest decided nothing as the teams left the floor at intermission tied at 26-26.
Two developments in the first half may have surprised UK fans. Certainly, each was unusual.
The Cats trailed for 9 minutes and 59 seconds of the first half. In seven earlier games this season, UK only trailed for a total of 26 minutes and three seconds (or 9.3 percent of game minutes).
No. 6 Texas, which could match UK in size, figured to make it a competitive game.
But surely no one expected the Longhorns to out-rebound Kentucky 27-11 in the first half. UK and Texas ranked second (plus 14.6) and fourth (plus 13.9) nationally coming into the game.
Texas outscrapped the Cats, as evidenced by grabbing 13 offensive rebounds in the first half. UK, which ranked ninth nationally with an average of 16.1 per game) grabbed only two in the first half.
Texas' largest lead was 20-14, which marked Kentucky's largest deficit of the season.
After making only three of its first 18 shots, Kentucky struck quickly. A Flagrant One foul on Jonathan Holmes helped. Karl-Anthony Towns made both free throws, then hit a jumper on the ensuing possession.
Tyler Ulis' pull-up tied it at 20-20 with 4:15 left. That marked UK's only fast-break points of the half.
A different Kentucky team played in the second half. This UK team took the initiative and never let Texas take a turn. UK needed barely three minutes to score its first four baskets, whereas its fourth first-half basket didn't come until the 4:32 mark.
A tip-in by Towns put Kentucky ahead 44-28 with 11:24 left.
Texas did not submit. The Longhorns got as close as five points with more than four minutes left, and again at 56-51 when Kentucky called time with 1:37 left.
Fittingly, and coincidentally, the ball went to Cauley-Stein at the elbow area.
While Coach John Calipari has repeatedly said he wanted to see what player could deliver in the clutch, Kentucky did not run a play for a specific player.
"What I liked is Willie wanted to make the play," Calipari said.
"They just played off me the whole time," Cauley-Stein said. "I just shot it 'uncannily.'"
Fouled on the play, Cauley-Stein made one of two free throws.
On the next possession, Andrew Harrison threw a lob that Cauley-Stein dunked.
"People have been telling me it was really high," Cauley-Stein said. "I'll have to watch it."