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December 1, 2013

Cauley-Stein flirts with triple double as Cats win

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Block. Block. Sprint. Dunk.

It was just one short second-half sequence for Willie Cauley-Stein Sunday night at the Barclays Center, but it's the one most emblematic of the Kentucky forward's performance in a 79-65 win against Providence.

Cauley-Stein blocked Kadeem Batts once, then again, sprinted the floor, took a pass from Aaron Harrison and flushed a dunk that put the Wildcats in front 47-38 and prompted a Friars timeout.

"I was extremely hype," Cauley-Stein said of that stretch, part of a 20-7 UK run. "It was a good feeling."

He's been spreading those lately.

Cauley-Stein flirted with a triple-double for the second straight game, finishing with 15 points, nine blocks and eight rebounds as the Wildcats (7-1) controlled the second half to beat the Friars (6-2).

That performance marked Cauley-Stein's career high in blocks and gave him a fourth straight double-digit scoring game for the first time in his college career.

"Like, you say, 'What is Willie doing different?'" UK coach John Calipari said. "He's playing harder longer. He's never played this many minutes, and he never played that hard this many minutes. But he's practicing that way. He's pushing himself, he's pushing through comfort levels, and that's what I'm trying to get all these guys to do."

They did it on Sunday.

Coincidentally or not, Cauley-Stein's return to Kentucky's starting lineup marked the end of the Wildcats' slow starts. They raced out to leads of 16-6 and 23-13 (Cauley-Stein didn't score in that stretch) before hot-shooting Providence battled back into the game.

The Friars cut the lead to 39-35 by halftime and to 39-38 on the opening possession of the second half on a three-pointer by guard Bryce Cotton, who finished with 23 points to lead all scorers.

But Providence never got closer, and Kentucky would stretch its lead to as many as 18 points late in the second half.

"We ground it out, like a team that's been doing it for two years," Calipari said. "We ground it out and made the plays and got fouled and made the basket. I was so proud of them, how they finished those last four minutes. We got a chance."

Cauley-Stein is one reason why.

"When Willie picks it up on defense, it just gives us the extra energy boost that we need," said freshman James Young, who led UK with 18 points. "We clap, clap it up on defense, which really picks us up on defense."

The sophomore has 31 blocks this season -- that's six more than Nerlens Noel and five fewer than Anthony Davis through eight games in their freshmen years -- and he's giving the Cats an added defensive dimension.

"I think (I'm) just more aware," Cauley-Stein said. "Like before in the past it was like I was hesitant on going. Now I'm just going. Like Coach said, 'Don't even worry about it. Try to go block every ball.' So that's what my game plan is coming into the game: just go try to block everything."


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