What's wrong with WCS?

Although Kentucky has used the same starting lineup for 11 consecutive games, John Calipari's player rotations have been in constant fluctuation since Southeastern Conference play began. Could the recent slump of center Willie Cauley-Stein lead to a lineup change?

Although Kentucky has used the same starting lineup for 11 consecutive games, John Calipari's player rotations have been in constant fluctuation since Southeastern Conference play began.

Like watching a Big Blue NASDAQ, if you will.

Stock is soaring for players like Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Jarrod Polson, while it appears to be dipping for Willie Cauley-Stein, Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee.

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There have been more overall gains than losses, but No. 14 Kentucky (14-4, 4-1 SEC) has legitimate concerns about the slump of its starting center, Cauley-Stein. The 7-foot sophomore played a season-low nine minutes in Tuesday's win over Texas A&M, picking up more personal fouls (4) than combined points, rebounds and blocked shots (1-1-0). He missed both of his field goal attempts, three out of four free throws and turned the ball over twice.

That performance came on the heels of being held scoreless and grabbing just three rebounds in 19 minutes against Tennessee and posting just two points and six rebounds before fouling out in the loss to Arkansas.

It's been a statistical free fall for a player who was averaging 8.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots per game before league play began, and fans have taken to the airwaves, message boards and water coolers with one thing on their mind:

"What's wrong with WCS?"

"I don't know what's wrong with Willie, but he'll be fine," Calipari said following Tuesday's game at Rupp Arena. "When you're a coach, you coach the game to win, then you work on egos and all the other stuff after. Dakari (Johnson) was playing better than (Cauley-Stein), so I started Dakari (in the second half). Dakari continued to play better than him."

Johnson, a 7-foot freshman who is starting to gain more of his coach's confidence with each game, scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots against the Aggies. His plus-22 was the highest +/- figure for UK in the 68-51 win.

Despite Johnson's strong play, Calipari said he tried to get Cauley-Stein back in the game as time was winding down in hopes of helping him regain some confidence. "At the end of the game, I said, ‘Look, we're going at you. You got to get going here, kid.' He turned and fumbled. I mean, it didn't get any better."

Calipari has praised Cauley-Stein for his work ethic in recent practices. It's not a matter of effort, he said.

"You know, he wants to do well," the UK boss said. "He was doing really well, and he backed up a little bit. It's like a slippery slope. When you back up, you don't keep bringing it. All of a sudden you go that other way. This sport is mental as much as anything else."

Kentucky has a deep arsenal of scoring threats, so the Wildcats have not been hurt too much from Cauley-Stein's recent lack of points. His defensive presence, however, is another matter.

Southeastern Conference opponents are shooting almost 2 percent higher against UK than non-conference foes. Three of the first five – Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee – shot higher than 40 percent against the Cats, a figure for which Calipari opponents typically find themselves on the south side.

After blocking 33 shots in a five-game stretch from Nov. 27 to Dec. 14 that reminded some observers of intimidating former Cats like Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Cauley-Stein has only five blocked shots in SEC play.

He'll get another chance to regain the momentum he had earlier this season when Kentucky plays host to Georgia (10-7, 4-1 SEC) on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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