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November 27, 2013

Cauley-Stein sparks second-half run as Cats win

He had played to exhaustion, the way John Calipari is always saying to, and all Willie Cauley-Stein wanted was a break.

In second half of what would turn into an 81-63 win against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Cauley-Stein had helped give Kentucky (6-1) some breathing room. He just wanted a breather.

As he went to the bench, Cauley-Stein said afterward, guard Aaron Harrison sprinted over to say, "Bro, you gotta come back in, because we're gonna need you."

Cauley-Stein assured Harrison he'd be back in short order.

"And that right there, it's a good feeling to know that my teammates even want me back on the court so fast, because you can tell that they're feeding off your energy," Cauley-Stein said. "That was a great feeling."

There was little question that Cauley-Stein provided a lift in Wednesday's matinee. He finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots off the bench and sparked Kentucky to a 46-31 scoring edge in the second half.

Cauley-Stein had eight points, five rebounds and five blocks after halftime.

"I just flew around," he said. "A lot of energy. And ran. And then when I was tired, subbed myself. That's what (Calipari) preaches to us."

It wasn't by design that Cauley-Stein provided that energy off the bench. Calipari had planned to return him to the starting lineup, but said "John Robic screwed it up," turning in a lineup to the official scorer with Marcus Lee listed as a starter.

"He'll start from here," Calipari said of Cauley-Stein.

It's easy to see why.

Kentucky got off to another sluggish start on Wednesday, falling behind 6-2 as Eastern Michigan (5-1) took advantage of sloppy offensive play. Kentucky had 11 of its 20 turnovers in the first half, and the Eagles turned those into 14 points.

The Cats led 35-32 at halftime.

"For me, I feel like my job if I'm gonna start is just to do exactly what I did (in the second half) and just go from the get-go, so then everybody else is going from the get-go," Cauley-Stein said. "That's what our problem is now. It's like, the first five minutes of the game is so stagnant and slow, and we just need to get out of that."

Cauley-Stein is a candidate to kick-start his team.

"You just have to have a mindset of, 'Look, I'm flying around all over the place,' and I'll be the first to tell you I don't always do it," Cauley-Stein said. "That's been the talk, that I don't go hard all the time. 'When you do, it's unbelievable.' That's what they say. I just got to get to the point where I'm sustaining that effort all the time and keep on doing that."

He did it against Eastern Michigan, disrupting the Eagles' offense with his length and igniting Kentucky's offense with soaring dunks off lobs. In one second-half sequence he swatted a shot at one and dunked at the other, brining a roar from the Rupp Arena crowd announced at 22,721.

Harrison scored 22 points and Julius Randle recorded his seventh straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but no Cat impacted the outcome more than Cauley-Stein.

"Willie Cauley in general did a tremendous job with his activity," Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said. "He was all over the floor, whether it was loose balls, diving or protecting the paint. Altering shots, blocking shots -- he did a tremendous job."

He's likely to have his chance to do it from the get-go on Sunday -- when Kentucky plays Providence in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- and beyond. And though Cauley-Stein said he'd appreciate the chance to hear his name announced with the starters, his focus will be on providing a spark whenever he's in a game.

"I mean, who doesn't want to hear their name and some fireworks go off?" he said. "But it's good that the other guys get to experience it, too. It wouldn't bother me any if I didn't start, but it's a privilege to start. That's the way I feel about it."

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