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January 28, 2014

Notes: LSU's size a challenge for Cauley-Stein

When Willie Cauley-Stein played against Tennessee's big men, he didn't "fight back" when they made contact and struggled as a result, coaches said after that game.

He knows the same treatment is coming against LSU's frontcourt on Tuesday.

"They play tough," Cauley-Stein said. "They're going to try to bully you."

Tennessee's two big men are each listed at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds.

LSU's two big men -- junior Johnny O'Bryant and freshman Jordan Mickey -- are listed at 6-foot-9, 256 pounds and 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, respectively.

They're averaging a combined 27.6 points and 14.5 rebounds per game.

"You're talking about two of the better big guys in our league," coach John Calipari said."

To combat them, Cauley-Stein has "got to play lower" and prepare for a battle in the paint, Calipari said, whether he likes that kind of matchup or not.

O'Bryant is "physical," Calipari said, but has also developed an outside jump shot that stretches defenses.

"Johnny's got him the freedom to make plays, so he's making them, which even makes him doubly hard to guard," Calipari said. "He's been a challenge for every team that they've played this year."

Mickey is one of nine players on the watch list for the Wayman Tisdale award, given to the nation's top freshman.

"Every time they need a basket, it's like a shot goes up and he's tipping it in or doing something good," Calipari said.

The interior battle figures to be crucial on both ends of the floor.

The Tigers are a poor-shooting team and rely on baskets around the rim, getting 56.1 percent of their points from two-point shots.

They also protect the interior well, allowing opponents to make just 41 percent of their twos, the sixth-best rate in the nation. They're paced by Mickey, who is averaging a league-high 3.56 blocks per game.

To play his part in winning the inside matchup, Cauley-Stein said he will use his "strength, quickness, speed -- pride."

"I don't know, step up to the challenge," Cauley-Stein said. "That's the only thing you really can do."

Passing Grade
Julius Randle used to dazzle with his passes.

As a star in high school and on the AAU circuit, the Kentucky freshman always was a scoring and rebounding machine. But his deft dishing out of double teams always caught the eye of scouts.

"Going in to Kentucky, I think passing was one of the best part of my game," Randle said.

Early on, it didn't show.

Though Randle matched a career high with four assists three times in Kentucky's first nine games, had totaled two assists and 21 turnovers in the next seven games.

"At the college level it's a lot harder, a lot different, but I think I've definitely gotten better over the season," Randle said.

Part of Randle's growth has been adjusting to a different sort of double-team. Players in college are bigger, their arms longer. Double-teams come quicker and are more difficult to see over.

Still, Randle is showing signs. In the past three games, he has 10 assists -- the most he's had in any three-game stretch this season -- and eight turnovers.

Randle admits he's still getting comfortable with the speed of the college game.

"But I think I've done a better job of adjusting to it," he said.

Line It Up
In a season with added emphasis on calling fouls, Kentucky is thriving.

The Wildcats attempt a free throw 5.7 times for every 10 field goal attempts, a much higher rate than any team John Calipari has coached.

His previous 11 teams averaged 4.05 free throws per 10 shots from the field, with a high of 4.4.

"That's what we do," Calipari said. "We create fouls, and we get to the line because of how we play."

Freshman forward Julius Randle and freshman guard Andrew Harrison are leading the attack.

Randle has attempted 8.4 free throws for every 10 field goal attempts. Harrison has attempted 7.4.

Both of those rates are higher than any other player Calipari has coached at Kentucky (the closest: DeMarcus Cousins, 7.3).

Now Calipari wants to see more players, such as freshman James Young (just 3.7 free throws per 10 field goal attempts), seek out contact and go to the line.

"He settles and he avoids contact," Calipari said. "You've got to go in there and create a foul. It's good for us. It gets us to the line, it stops the game, and it gets their guy out of the game."

Benefits aside, Calipari said he wants to see the NCAA maintain consistency and emphasis on the current interpretation of the rules.

"I just hope they stay the course," he said. "I think it's cleaned up the game. We're going back to what the game should be."


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