Kentucky held the Friars to 28.2 percent shooting from the field and almost completely shut down Providence star LaDontae Henton, who was held to three points on 1-for-8 shooting from the floor in a 58-38 win by the Wildcats.
Henton entered the game averaging 24.3 points and had garnered national player of the week attention after scoring 38 points against Notre Dame and 29 against Yale in the Friars’ last two games. The 6-foot-6 senior forward had no answer, however, for UK’s agile 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein.
"Willie was unbelievable defensively," UK coach John Calipari said.
“He’s like a one-man wrecking crew,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said of Cauley-Stein. “… A special talent.”
Both coaches also credited the Wildcats’ Tyler Ulis for changing the complexion of what had been a close game through halftime (26-22) with his aggressive man-to-man defense.
“I thought the biggest key today was Ulis,” Cooley said. “I thought he was very disruptive with his ball pressure. You couldn’t get into an offensive flow.”
Friars point guard Kris Dunn shot 1-for-7 from the floor and finished a nightmarish game with 10 turnovers.
“I've had three Chicago guys do what Tyler Ulis did today, which is change the game,” Calipari said. “I had Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Tyler Ulis… Very rarely do you see a guy walk in and just change the game, like, change the whole flow of it. And he did that today.”
Ulis came off the bench to score six points, grab three rebounds and record three steals. The 5-9 guard also blocked a shot, much to the delight of the Rupp crowd of 23,601.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Cauley-Stein each scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Kentucky (7-0) on a day when the Cats shot just 45.3 percent from the field, 2-for-7 from the 3-point arc and 8-for-17 at the foul line.
Providence (6-1) was led by center Carson Desrosiers and forward Tyler Harris with 10 points apiece.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: After a string of November blowouts that left fans yawning during the second halves of games, Kentucky got a much-needed competitive challenge from Providence. It gave Calipari a chance to see how his Cats would respond in what he categorized as a “hand-to-hand” (combat) type of game. It wasn’t a strong offensive showing for UK, but once again the Cats did not allow that to affect their defensive focus or intensity.
KEY MOMENT: Providence hung within six points of UK until the 10-minute mark of the second half when Alex Poythress sparked a decisive 9-0 run with a blocked shot and defensive rebound that led to a basket for Cauley-Stein. A putback by Ulis, the first UK 3-pointer of the day by Devin Booker and a layup by Poythress gave the Cats a 44-29 lead in a span of 1:42.
STAT OF THE DAY: Henton had one bucket for the Friars after netting 24 in his last two games.
QUOTABLE: "Good thing I’m one of a kind." – Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein after being asked what it would be like to face himself as a defender.
UP NEXT: Kentucky returns the court Friday at Rupp Arena with a matchup against No. 7 Texas (6-0) who defeated No. 24 UConn on Sunday afternoon.
UK coach John Calipari...
Providence coach Ed Cooley...