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Video: Coach Cal's post-Columbia press conference

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Towns not afraid to try different, be different

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Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points and nine rebounds in UK's win over EKU on Sunday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points and nine rebounds in UK's win over EKU on Sunday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
By any reasonable measure, Karl-Anthony Towns' college career started well.

Starting on the No. 1 team in the land, Towns was among the nation's top shot-blockers and even won Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honors after big games against UT Arlington and Providence. He followed that up with 10 more points in Kentucky's second top-10 win of the season against Texas.

But the Saturday after the victory, Towns had a reaction you might not expect.

"I woke up in the morning, brushed my teeth - good hygiene, that's the biggest thing - and I looked in the mirror and I wanted to be better," Towns said. "I wanted to do something a little different than what I'm used to."

For Towns, there's no bigger departure from the norm than abandoning the toothy grin that he's come to be known for around the Joe Craft Center.

"He's got a very nice smile," assistant coach Barry Rohrssen said. "He really does."

Fear not, Coach Rohrssen, the smile isn't going away all the time.

Towns, seeking to find an edge to take his game to the next level, decided stash his smile in favor of a scowl during UK's matchup with Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. Towns' theory is that he plays his best when he's mad, so why not take that mentality to tipoff?

His logic, it seems, was sound.

The freshman was dominant against the Colonels, posting 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocks. Just as importantly, the performance drew rave reviews from his toughest critic, Karl Sr., which means Junior plans to try the same approach for UK's next game, a matchup with Columbia (5-2) at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

"My father liked it," Towns said. "He said it's a different person (than) he's ever seen, so I like it too. I looked at a little bit of tape and I thought it kept me a little bit more focused on the game. I like it. I'm going to keep experimenting with it."

Considering Towns had already established himself among the top NBA Draft prospects in the nation, it's somewhat of a scary thought if the experiment works. Towns, after that EKU performance that again won him SEC Freshman of the Week honors, is averaging 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 18.8 minutes.

"You're always looking for that next step to give your team another help," Towns said. "I'm just trying to help my team at all causes, at all times."

What Towns has going for him, other than his talent and 6-foot-11 frame, is he's on a team deep and experienced enough that he can experiment with the best ways to do that without having to worry about carrying the load on his own.

"For me it's been great knowing that I have a security blanket, I guess," Towns said. "Not everything's always going to be on my shoulders like it was in high school. The best thing about it is that I put pressure on myself. I want to be the best player I can possibly be. I want to be the best I can be for this team, so I'm putting a lot of pressure just on myself."

Towns' ultimate goal is to forget the freshman label he's carrying and play like his veteran teammates, namely Willie Cauley-Stein, who dominated in the win over Texas that prompted his mini-reinvention.

"The biggest thing is just don't be timid," Towns said. "Go out there and have a ball playing, but also we're getting to that part of the season now. Games are going to be a lot harder. We gotta do what we gotta do to make sure that we're the best possible. If this mentality helps me and the team then so be it. I'll do it every game."

Rohrssen feels the same way, though he still wants Karl to remain Karl off the court.

"His priorities always seem in order," Rohrssen said. "Again, he isn't just a good player. He's a wonderful person. He's so well-liked in this building, among his teammates, on campus, in the community here. Throughout many of the events that we've done, Karl has always gone above and beyond even what you ask him to do."

Whether it's in basketball or in life, going above and beyond is what Towns does. It's just who he is.

"Karl is a bit different, in a good way," Rohrssen said. "In a very good way."

UK in the NBA: Point guards star in week 7

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Former UK guards Eric Bledsoe and John Wall posted big games in the NBA this week. (UK Athletics) Former UK guards Eric Bledsoe and John Wall posted big games in the NBA this week. (UK Athletics)
By Nick Jones, UK Athletics

Through games on Sunday, Dec. 7

A trio of former Kentucky guards highlighted week six in the NBA. Eric Bledsoe, John Wall and Rajon Rondo have been on top of their games to this point in the season, but the three floor generals handed in consecutive spectacular performances this past week.

Bledsoe collected averages of 23 points, six assists and three rebounds while logging over 38 minutes per game as the Phoenix Suns posted a 2-1 record for the week. Even as the fourth year guard carried the scoring load for his team, Bledsoe still let his presence be known on the defensive end of the floor, including this spectacular chase-down block against the Rockets on Sunday.

UPDATE: Bledsoe had another huge game on Monday, posting 27 points, 16 assists, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in a 121-120 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Bledsoe's triple-double against his former team was the first of his career and the first for a Suns player since 2006.

Rajon Rondo was back to his stat-stuffing ways with several eye-popping box score performances. First, Rondo recorded a season-high 19 assists and 12 rebounds last Tuesday, marking his sixth career double-double with assists and rebounds. No other guard in the league currently has more than one.

Rondo continued his passing display on Friday when he out-assisted the entire Los Angeles Lakers team 16 to 14 in a convincing 113-96 win for the Celtics. He capped off the week by posting a triple-double against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Rondo was good for 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in another Celtics victory, who have put together three straight wins for the first time this season.

Even with the greatness from Rondo, former Wildcat John Wall pieced together an impressive night himself. Wall finished the game with 17 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks in what was truly a heavyweight matchup between two of the league's best point guards.

76ers get first win

The Philadelphia 76ers opened the 2014-15 NBA season with a 17-game losing streak, just one game away from tying the NBA's worst start in league history. On Wednesday, though, Philly defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves as rookie Nerlens Noel chipped in eight points, three rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes of action.

Noel followed up the first encouraging night of basketball in his young career with an 11-point, 10-rebound performance, recording his third double-double of the season.

Week seven TV schedule

Tuesday: Dallas @ Memphis (Tayshaun Prince) 8:00 p.m. on NBA TV
                Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins) @ L.A. Lakers 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV
Wednesday: New Orleans (Anthony Davis) @ Dallas 8:00 p.m. on ESPN
Thursday: Houston (Terrence Jones) @ Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins) 10:30 p.m. on TNT
Friday: Portland @ Chicago (Nazr Mohammed) 7:00 p.m. on ESPN

Statistics (through games on Dec. 7)

Player (Team)

Games   Played

Games Started

MPG

PPG

RPG

APG

BPG

SPG

Eric Bledsoe (Suns)

21

21

32.2

15.8

4.7

5.7

0.7

1.4

DeMarcus Cousins (Kings)

15

15

32.0

23.5

12.6

2.4

1.5

1.1

Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

19

19

36.3

25.2

10.7

1.7

2.9

2.1

Archie Goodwin (Suns)

9

0

7.0

3.3

1.3

0.3

0.0

0.1

Chuck Hayes (Raptors)

12

0

10.2

1.5

2.2

1.0

0.1

0.5

Terrence Jones (Rockets)

4

4

29.3

14.0

7.5

1.5

1.8

1.0

Enes Kanter (Jazz)

20

20

25.3

13.7

6.7

0.7

0.4

0.4

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hornets)

6

6

23.3

9.8

5.5

1.3

0.8

0.2

Brandon Knight (Bucks)

22

22

32.1

17.6

4.7

5.8

0.1

1.5

Nerlens Noel (76ers)

17

13

30.8

8.2

6.6

1.6

1.2

1.6

Patrick Patterson (Raptors)

20

3

25.5

7.5

5.7

1.6

0.4

0.6

Tayshaun Prince (Grizzlies)

 

11

6

23.1

8.0

2.8

0.8

0.1

0.3

Rajon Rondo (Celtics)

17

17

32.8

8.8

7.8

11.2

0.2

1.6

John Wall (Wizards)

19

19

35.3

17.6

4.7

10.0

0.7

2.2

James Young (Celtics)

5

0

3.6

2.2

0.4

0.2

0.2

0.0


Marcus Lee had 10 points, all on dunks in UK's 82-49 win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Marcus Lee had 10 points, all on dunks, in UK's 82-49 win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Marcus Lee was the first UK player to find out firsthand what John Calipari meant when he said the platoon system is "not communism."

With Willie Cauley-Stein, Lee's first-platoon counterpart, dominating in a top-10 matchup with Texas, Lee was informed in the locker room he would move into a backup role in the second half.

It would have been understandable had Lee been a little down playing just one minute after halftime. Instead, he sat back and enjoyed the show.

"It was great the other game just watching him go off," Lee said. "That's the greatest I've seen Willie and that's just the kind of team we are."

Lee, in spite of having to take a step back, didn't disengage. Knowing how the platoons work and that his time would come, the sophomore was secure enough being the biggest cheerleader for the player who was getting his minutes as he posted 21 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocks.

"When someone ahead of you is doing really well, you're just like, 'Hey Coach, keep him in,' and you're totally fine with it and you know you have the next game," Lee said. "So I wasn't worried about it at all. I knew today would just be a new game and everything would be different."

He was right.

Lee, jumping right back into the rotation, had his best game of the season in No. 1 UK's latest dominant performance, an 82-49 win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday at Rupp Arena. Lee had 10 points in the victory on five second-half dunks, his offensive specialty.

"It makes the game fun," Lee said. "Any kind of lob is fun. But playing this fast tempo is just something that I've always loved to do. It's just my kind of game and the lobs just kind of came naturally in this game."

Considering Lee had been quiet through much of UK's undefeated start, scoring no more than four points in any game before EKU, his emergence was encouraging. Much more encouraging is the fact that the Cats are responding to the way playing time is being divvied up just as the coaching staff hoped they would.

"These guys genuinely really like each other," assistant coach John Robic said.

Those feelings were proven by the way Lee handled Cauley-Stein's career night on Friday and again Sunday by Cauley-Stein. Forty-eight hours removed from a performance that had NBA scouts and analysts buzzing, Cauley-Stein was eager to see Lee succeed just as Lee had been for him.

So eager, in fact, that Cauley-Stein told John Calipari to leave Lee in at one point rather than check back in himself.

"It was Willie's turn to go in, and Willie told Coach, 'Keep Marcus in,' " Robic said.

Watching the moment live, Robic was reminded of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament title game when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gave up his starting spot for a struggling Darius Miller. UK would lose the game to Vanderbilt, but Miller regained his form and the Cats would of course go on to win their eighth national championship.
 
"It was one of those things that if you think back what Gilchrist did for Darius Miller, that's a sign of maturity, that's a sign of a leader, that's a sign of being a good teammate," Robic said. "They appreciate that."

It remains to be seen whether similarly selfless acts by this year's team will lead to No. 9, but it's certainly not a bad sign.

"That totally puts trust and comfort in your other players knowing that I'd be able to do it for him and he's also capable of doing the same for me," Lee said. "It kind of just shows how much we care for each other and we're not just there for ourselves."
 

Video: Lee, Towns, Lyles on UK's win over EKU

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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."

Recent Comments

  • B J Vance: Kudos to the Big Blue Nation who turn out everywhere to cheer the Cats. The very entertaining and knowledgeable Dick read more
  • gerald adams: you done a hell of good job today boys. I,m so prod ove you all for the heart some of read more
  • Silviu Udrea: Huge fan !!! Keep going on :) read more
  • JR: Erin is one dedicated player of the game of softball.......and it would be hard to find anyone who has worked read more
  • Commenter: Both Derick and Dominique should watch Willie's game 3 years back. Compared to what Caulistain then these two players are read more
  • Patrick Quinn: I've always liked Willis...we will need him getting significant minutes during our run..I have faith in his athletic ability...I remember read more
  • Robert Sutherland: I Love Dakari both as a player with that great smile, personality, and his support for his teammates...and I love read more
  • Helen Spalding: Congrats Makayla and team. We love you here in Marion County and just "proud as punch" of you and your read more
  • conley salyer: We love you and the women's team,Janee. Our five year old grandson attends every home game, knows your names and read more
  • Sandy: I was watching the game on TV when it happened. I got a little teary eyed just watching it. I read more