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Video: Highlights from UK's win over EKU

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Video: Robic's post-EKU press conference

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Willie Cauley-Stein had a career-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks in UK's 63-51 win over Texas. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein had a career-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks in UK's 63-51 win over Texas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In the midst of an offseason of unprecedented hype, there was one question John Calipari kept asking because he wasn't sure of the answer.

You see, he remembered the two national championship games he's coached in the last three seasons. He remembered how the outcome was decided.

"When we played Connecticut, who was the best player on the court? (Shabazz Napier) And that's why they won," Calipari said in a preseason interview. "When we played Kansas in that final game, who was the best player on the court? (Anthony Davis) My guy. And we won."

The question, then, as UK worked toward another trip to college basketball's biggest stage bearing a preseason No. 1 ranking, was whether the Wildcats would have such a player when the games got big. Immediately, a candidate, Willie Cauley-Stein, came to mind.

"So now, on this team, when we play in that kind of game, are they going to have a player better than we have?" Calipari said. "And so who would that be? Can it be Willie?"

It's still only December, but Cauley-Stein answered resoundingly yes in No. 1 Kentucky's first close game of the season, a 63-51 win over No. 6 Texas on Friday night in Rupp Arena.

"He was ridiculous today," Calipari said.

Ridiculous to the tune of a career-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks as UK (8-0) survived what Texas head coach Rick Barnes aptly termed a "big-boy game."

"It was crazy," said Alex Poythress, who had eight points of his own. "He was everywhere blocking shots, getting steals, offensively he was real good at getting rebounds. It was the best I've ever seen him out there."

"He affected the game in every way he could affect it," Barnes said.

The game was one in which Cauley-Stein would likely have struggled in his first two seasons. He would often dominate against smaller opponents, but not in more bruising contests. The messages Calipari delivered about staying low and negating physical play just weren't sinking in, at least not until recently.

"The biggest thing was before I wasn't seeing success at it. So I'm like, 'Why do I gotta play like this? I'm not even seeing success.' I started seeing success at it and I'm like, 'Well...' "

The Longhorns came close to matching UK's incredible size and strength inch-for-inch and pound-for-pound, but the junior 7-footer didn't back away from the challenge. Cauley-Stein called the matchup one between two teams with the top bigs in the country, and he was the best of the bunch.

Not only did he sky for rebounds, swoop in for blocks and streak into passing lanes for steals as he's become known for, he was also UK's primary offensive option, even in the clutch.

After battling to a 26-26 halftime draw, the Cats came out of the locker room fired up and used an 18-2 run to build what appeared to be a safe lead considering the suffocating defense they were playing and had played all season. Instead, the Longhorns charged back, twice cutting UK's lead to five points in the final five minutes.

Both times, it wasn't Aaron Harrison, he of the game-winning 3-pointers, who stepped up. It was Cauley-Stein.

The first, with 4:19 left, came when Cauley-Stein grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Tyler Ulis. In one motion, he gathered himself and rose again for a basket.

"I've just been working on that shot and working on those shots in the paint," Cauley-Stain said. "They just played off me the whole time so I just shot it."

Minutes later, Cauley-Stein scored five points in a row with three made free throws in four tries and an alley-oop from Andrew Harrison on which he jumped and seemed to keep rising to bump UK's lead back to double digits.

"I've just been working on my game so the confidence is going to continue to come the more and more I work on it," said Cauley-Stein, who played 33 minutes, the most for any UK player this season. "That's just the biggest thing, is doing it. Tonight I just did it."

Unsurprisingly, his performance drew rave reviews from all around, including ESPN NBA Draft guru Chad Ford. Cauley-Stein would have been a lottery contender had he not defied expectations and left UK last spring, but he opted to return. He's looking like a smart man after being the best player on the floor in a game that featured more than a few future pros.

"That's one of the biggest reasons why I came back is just to develop myself more as a basketball player," Cauley-Stein said. "I feel like I'm starting to do that. And the good thing is I've got so much more time. It's only December. I've still got like three months of that."

Video: Coach Cal's post-Texas press conference

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Video: New men's basketball intro for Texas game

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Video: Andrew, Aaron Harrison on Texas matchup

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By Nick Jones, UK Athletics

With the first month of the 2014-15 NBA season in the books, former Kentucky players have enjoyed their fair share of headlines.

Maybe the most impressive performance thus far came on Monday when the NBA announced that Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month For November.

Casey is from Union County, Ky., and played for UK under Joe B. Hall from 1975-79, helping the program to its fifth NCAA title as a junior in 1978. After his collegiate playing career came to end Casey spent two different stints as an assistant coach and lead recruiter for the Cats over six seasons in the 80s.

In the early 90s Casey spent time overseas with head coaching jobs in the Japanese Basketball League before making his way into the NBA. Now in his fourth year with the Raptors, the former Wildcat has his young team at the top of the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2004.

As it stands, Toronto's 13-4 record is the best start to a season in the history of the franchise, and the team's 13-win total marks the most wins in a one-month span in the Raptors 19 years of existence.

Two former Cats on the court have played distinctive roles in the success of the Raptors' season thus far.

Patrick Patterson has started three games this season for Toronto, but has spent the majority of November in the sixth man role averaging 25 minutes per game. He has expanded his offensive game since he last put on a Kentucky uniform in 2010 becoming a legitimate stretch four with his ability to knock down consistent 3-point shots that he showed began to show in his final season at UK.

The 6-foot-9 big man is shooting 39 percent from deep this season while knocking down 1.3 3s per game.

Patterson may see an increase in playing time going forward. The fifth year pro has notched two straight double-doubles while logging more than 30 minutes per contest in his last two games.

Chuck Hayes has seen far less action than his UK counterpart, playing just over 10 minutes per game in 11 games off the bench this season. But Hayes is now one month into his tenth NBA season. The veteran has not made his living by posting flashy numbers throughout his career.

Hayes brings a locker-room presence that is essential to any team trying to make a run at a championship. And with the fast start in November, mentions of championship expectations are starting to creep up for the Raptors.

Other week five spotlights


From a statistical standpoint John Wall had an up and down week as the Wizards tallied a 2-2 record. But when Wall is asked to step up and single-handedly take over a game, he rarely fails to rise to the occasion, and that is exactly what he did on Monday night when the Washington handed Miami a 21-point loss.

Wall led the way with 18 points, shooting 6 of 10 from the field. He also dished out some of the most spectacular assists of the seasons matching a season high 13 assists in the game.  The All-Star point guard also grabbed five rebounds and grabbed two steals in what was one of his most complete performances of the season.

DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings got the better of the Pelicans last week as the center bullied his way to 22 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals in the 99-89 win on the road.

Cousins leads the league in double-doubles this season and he now has eight straight games with double-digit points and rebounds.

Anthony Davis had just 14 points and nine rebounds in the game, a performance well below his season averages. The Pelicans lost all three games last week and have since moved quickly to put themselves in position to make an immediate acquisition.

This meant Davis' Kentucky teammate Darius Miller had to be waived to make room for whomever the Pelicans decide to target in the coming weeks.

Miller appeared in just five games (one start) this season as he battled preseason injuries, and took time off for the birth of his daughter. New Orleans selected Miller in the second round of the 2012 draft and the Kentucky product has since played 102 career games (10 starts) over the last three seasons.

Week six TV schedule


Thursday: New Orleans (Anthony Davis) @ Golden State 10:30 p.m. on TNT
Friday: Denver @ Washington (John Wall) 7:00 p.m. on NBA TV
            Indiana @ Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins) 10:00 p.m. on NBA TV
Saturday: Golden State @ Chicago (Nazr Mohammed) 8:00 p.m. on NBA TV

Statistics (through games on Nov. 30)


Player (Team)

Games   Played

Games Started

MPG

PPG

RPG

APG

BPG

SPG

Eric Bledsoe (Suns)

18

18

31.2

14.6

4.9

5.7

0.6

1.2

DeMarcus Cousins (Kings)

15

15

32.0

23.5

12.6

2.4

1.5

1.1

Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

15

15

36.5

24.9

11.3

1.7

3.0

2.1

Archie Goodwin (Suns)

8

0

7.6

3.5

1.4

0.4

0.0

0.1

Chuck Hayes (Raptors)

11

0

10.2

1.4

2.1

1.1

0.1

0.6

Terrence Jones (Rockets)

4

4

29.3

14.0

7.5

1.5

1.8

1.0

Enes Kanter (Jazz)

18

18

24.7

13.3

6.7

0.7

0.3

0.3

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hornets)

6

6

23.3

9.8

5.5

1.3

0.8

0.2

Brandon Knight (Bucks)

18

18

32.9

17.0

4.7

5.9

0.1

1.3

Darius Miller (Pelicans)

5

1

8.6

0.4

0.2

0.4

0.0

0.2

Nerlens Noel (76ers)

14

10

30.5

7.9

6.5

1.6

1.6

1.3

Patrick Patterson (Raptors)

17

3

25.2

7.0

5.8

1.8

0.5

0.7

Tayshaun Prince (Grizzlies)

 

9

6

21.2

6.6

2.7

0.8

0.0

0.3

Rajon Rondo (Celtics)

13

13

32.6

9.3

7.4

10.5

0.2

1.5

John Wall (Wizards)

16

16

35.3

18.2

4.4

9.3

0.5

2.3

James Young (Celtics)

4

0

4.0

2.8

0.5

0.3

0.2

0.0


John Calipari and Kentucky are off to a 7-0 start to the 2014-15 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and Kentucky are off to a 7-0 start to the 2014-15 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has never been afraid to adapt his coaching style to fit his personnel. In his first five seasons at Kentucky, he's coached all manner of different teams.

His first group dominated with a combination of overwhelming talent, suffocating defense and brute force in the post. The next season he used more finesse, employing pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs to take a team to the Final Four.

Similar adjustments - and two trips to the national championship game - followed over the next three seasons, but a few statistical hallmarks have remained in place. In fact, that's true dating all the way back to Calipari's run at Memphis.

On offense, Coach Cal's teams sometimes play fast (2005-06 at Memphis and 2009-10 at Kentucky) and sometimes play slow (2010-11 and 2013-14 at UK). Sometimes they get it done by getting to the foul line in spite of mediocre field-goal shooting (2013-14) and sometimes by shooting well from the field and rarely turning it over (2010-11).

But almost without exception, Coach Cal's teams dominate on the offensive glass. Dating back to 2001-02 and including this season, Calipari's Memphis and UK teams have ranked in the top 30 nationally in offensive-rebounding percentage 10 times according to kenpom.com, the source for all statistics found in this story. Only once during that time period (2010-11, his most anomalous team before this season, but we'll get to that later), has a Calipari team ranked outside the top 75 nationally in offensive-rebounding percentage.

On defense, Calipari teams, above all else, contest shots well. Ten times in the last 14 season, Coach Cal's groups have ranked in the top 10 nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense, and never have they ranked worse than 53rd. Along those same lines, Calipari teams excel at shot-blocking. Remarkably, UK and Memphis have ranked in the top 15 nationally in block percentage in 12 consecutive seasons.

This season, UK is taking those three consistent traits - offensive-rebounding percentage, effective field-goal percentage defense and block percentage - to the extreme. The Wildcats, as of Dec. 2, rank first nationally in all three.

In that way, this is a typical Calipari team. In other ways, it's anything but.

Unprecedented depth has prompted Coach Cal to go to a much-talked about platoon system in which 10 players share minutes roughly equally. Logically, UK has rocketed to the top of the national rankings in bench minutes, ranking first with reserves playing 49 percent of available minutes this season. In his first five seasons in Lexington, UK ranked no higher than 160th nationally and lower than 300th three times.

The differences resulting from the platoons don't end there.

On offense, the system has led to passing unlike anything Calipari has coached in recent seasons. As good as they have been, Calipari's teams haven't typically registered high assist totals, which can be attributed in part to his Dribble Drive offense, which encourages passes that lead to driving opportunities.

This year has been a different story, with UK racking up 120 assists through seven games. The Cats have assisted on 59.7 percent of their made field goals this season (63rd nationally, highest for a Calipari team in more than a decade), up more than six percent from UK's previous season-high total under Calipari.

On defense, UK's depth has allowed the Cats to turn up their ball pressure. Whereas previous teams have been content to force opponents into tough shots and contest them rather than go for turnovers, this group is managing to do both.

UK has forced turnovers on 27.9 percent of its defensive possessions, good for ninth nationally. By comparison, the previous four UK teams have all ranked 293rd or worse in defensive turnover percentage.

It' bears mentioning it that the season is young and the competition will improve, meaning Coach Cal has plenty of time to do what he does and adapt. That said, it looks like he's coaching a different kind of team than he ever has.


Recent Comments

  • joel alberto luna colon: I agree with you, UK has not only the talent, but some experience. They could go undefeated if they want read more
  • Berdj Rassam: This was expected to be an easy win for UK. read more
  • dannyone: if the cat,s play like that in every game as they should they could go all the way.so what I,m read more
  • Dale Sine: Coach Cal at it again. He is the best coach in America and the only coach that could handle coaching read more
  • Mike J.: Cal is the best coach out there. He returned Memphis to national prominence and stayed 9 years, a helluva lot read more
  • Berdj Rassam: Booker will be a key part of whether or not this team will be successful this season. read more
  • Tom Moore: Since Tubby 98 and 2003-2004 team which should've won it all, Kentucky fans ( I am true blue ) have read more
  • John Mylant: Kentucky verses Kansas I am a UK fan but bringing this into perspective, this was just one of those games. read more
  • Catherine: We have the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, I say we should name the rest team "The Closers"! read more
  • Sandy: Great game. I couldn't take my eyes off in the second half. Proud of all of you. I thought Epps read more