UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky flexes its talent in 79-54 rout of Georgia

Kentucky' Aaron Harrison (2) scored in the second half half of the Georgia at Kentucky men's basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 25, 2014. Kentucky beat Georgia 79-54.  Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Kentucky' Aaron Harrison (2) scored in the second half half of the Georgia at Kentucky men's basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 25, 2014. Kentucky beat Georgia 79-54. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Saturday brought a winter wonderland inside Rupp Arena as well as outside.

With an announced crowd of 23,367 having braved cold temperatures and a freshly fallen 6 inches of snow, Kentucky outclassed Georgia 79-54. The margin marked the Cats' most lopsided victory since a 29-point pasting of UT Arlington on Nov. 19.

The crowd — which surpassed UK's average this season of 22,644 — watched the re-emergence of Willie Cauley-Stein as an impact player.

In UK's three most recent games, Cauley-Stein's play was the basketball equivalent of sub-zero. Three points, two blocks and a rebound average of 3.3 looked like statistics on the Celsius scale.

"Yeah, I was frustrated," Cauley-Stein said after UK beat Georgia. "Because in my head I felt like I was trying. But when I went back and looked at it, it was just I don't play like that. I don't know why I was doing that.

"Mistakes after mistakes. And I'm not one to make a lot of mistakes."

Confused and unsure, Cauley-Stein said he re-doubled his effort in recent practices. It was suggested that his production against Georgia — eight points, six blocks and a career-high six steals — reflected this re-commitment.

"He was in a totally different frame of mind," UK Coach John Calipari said. "And he performed. ... I thought he played well. Blocks. Steals. Moved his feet. Make some baskets. Two free throws. That's who he is for us."

Kentucky, which improved to 15-4 overall and 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference, blew open the game with a 26-8 run midway through the second half.

Aaron Harrison led Kentucky with 15 points. Julius Randle capped his 14-point, nine-rebound afternoon with a driving, one-handed dunk. James Young and Alex Poythress added 13 and 11 points.

Georgia Coach Mark Fox, whose team fell to 10-8 and 4-2, suggested that UK's many contributors be factored into any appraisal of Cauley-Stein.

"I mean, they've got a lot of guys making plays," he said. "You're not going to get as many opportunities when you have a balanced team like they do. I mean, he's a terrific player, and I don't think he was slumping. I think it just comes with the territory."

Kentucky led 34-22 at halftime. The Cats could have hardly avoided a double-digit lead at intermission given Georgia's 7-for-24 shooting, 10 turnovers and short-handed roster. Starting guard Kenny Gaines, the team's second-leading scorer (12.0 ppg) and his backup, Juwan Parker, sat out the game because of a thigh bruise and sore hamstring, respectively.

Georgia had struggled for points with those players, coming into the game ranked No. 199 in scoring (71.2 ppg).

Kentucky took the lead for good on two Aaron Harrison free throws with 13:30 left in the first half. A moment later, the Cats reeled off 13 straight points.

All the while, Cauley-Stein's contributions quietly piled up like the snow overnight. He noted how subpar play fueled criticism from tweeting fans last year. Not so, this year.

"I heard a lot of positive things," he said, "and I was touched by it."

Winning while he struggled made the difference, he concluded.

"If you're winning and you play bad, then it's, like, it doesn't matter ... ," he said. "If you're losing and you play bad, you're terrible."

On Friday, Calipari suggested that smirking contributed to Cauley-Stein's recent struggles. Calipari said he told Cauley-Stein, "Smirking ain't working."

To which Cauley-Stein pleaded guilty. He's been getting in trouble for smiling at the wrong time since being sent to the principal's office in elementary school, he said.

"I think Coach Cal's funny," he said. "When he'll be on you, it's kind of funny. ... They (the coaches) take it the wrong way. Like I was being a jerk about it. That's how I've been since I was little."

Although coming off a more productive game, which he acknowledged came as a big relief, Cauley-Stein made no promises about keeping a poker face when Calipari or an assistant coach volunteers, uh, animated instruction.

"Coach Cal is crazy about it," Cauley-Stein said of the smile/smirk. "So eventually it'll start sticking in my head. All right. Just look at him. Wait till he looks away."

And then smirk.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader