Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Notebook

Three Kentucky Wildcats have been named among 50 players nationally on the Naismith Trophy watch list, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Wednesday.

Junior center Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomore guard Aaron Harrison (pictured above) and freshman center/forward Karl-Anthony Towns are represented on the watch list for the national player of the year award.

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Cauley-Stein is averaging 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game and has earned a reputation as one of the best defenders in the nation. His 10 blocked shots are tied for second on the team, and he’s coming off a performance in which he held Providence’s LaDontae Henton, a 24-point scorer on average this season, to just three points on 1-of-8 shooting.

Harrison hasn’t found his sweet shooting stroke this season, but still leads the Cats in scoring at 10.4 points per game. His 19 points against Boston earlier this season ranks as the top scoring output of the season for any UK player in John Calipari’s two-platoon system.

Towns is averaging 8.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He leads UK and is tied for 10th nationally with 21 blocked shots this season, a big part of the reason why the Cats have held opponents to 27.9 percent shooting and 44.6 points per game this season.

No. 1 Kentucky (7-0) returns to action Friday in an SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchup with No. 6 Texas (7-0). Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET at Rupp Arena with the game broadcast by ESPN.

Texas coach Rick Barnes said during a press conference Wednesday that he’s been thoroughly impressed with the way UK coach John Calipari has handled his abundance of talent this season.

“John has done just an incredible job with what he’s done to get those guys to totally buy into the team concept,” Barnes said. “… He’s made a way to utilize everybody he’s got on his team. That’s what he’s done. I think the job of a coach is to take the players that you have and to find the best possible system that you can put them in, put them in the best position.

“He’s always had a great vision for the way he sees his teams to play.”

Barnes added that Calipari is “very, very underrated as a coach” and doesn’t get enough credit for how he manages his teams. “People will talk about talent. I don’t think those people realize it’s not as easy as you think when you do have talent, and it’s certainly not as easy as you think when you’ve got a bullet on your back.”

The Longhorns lost out on a couple of elite in-state prospects when Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison chose to take their games to the Bluegrass State, but Barnes has tracked the progress of the twin guards and has been impressed by their development at UK.

“I think John has really taught them winning,” the UT boss said. “You know, winning is everything, and they can still use their talent and be a team player, in terms that it can be built around you, yet sometimes we’ve got to play this way or that way (in order to win).

“I think he’s really taught them to see the game differently.”

Barnes noted that Calipari has been “relentless” with the twins, and it’s clearly paying off.

Freshman center/forward Myles Turner was high on many fans’ recruiting wish list across the Big Blue Nation last year. He ultimately decided to stay home in the Lone Star State, and he’s off to a terrific start for the Horns.

The 6-11 Turner is averaging 12.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and has a team-high 23 blocked shots. He’s been coming off the bench, but logging some of the best numbers on the team.

“He’s got all the things, the makings of (a star) in terms of passion for the game,” Barnes said.

Texas will need Turner and the rest of its strong frontcourt to come up big against the size and talent UK features in the paint.

“They’re big. We’re big,” Barnes said. “… We’re going to need our guys. In a game like this, you got to be playing at a very high level.

“It’s difficult. I’m not going to make any bones about it.”

The teams have similar defensive numbers on the season, especially when it comes to scoring around the basket. The Longhorns are holding teams to 30 percent shooting and have blocked 58 shots. UK is at 28 percent and 65 blocked shots.

The Cats still havne't been in a tight game at the under-4:00 mark, but it's very much possible they could encounter that situation Friday against the talented Longhorns.

Calipari gave some hints on his weekly radio call-in show about what the lineup may look like if UK finds itself down late.

"If we're playing a zone, and I'm not comfortable, Devin (Booker) and Aaron (Harrison) are going to be in together," he said. "Somebody's out because those two are going to be in together. Those are going to be the two wings. If it's late in the game and we need 3s, probably Alex (Poythress) or Trey (Lyles) would be the 4, and Karl (Towns) would be the 5 with those other three, whether it's Tyler (Ulis) or Andrew (at the point)."

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