On a night when more than 30 NBA scouts were on hand at Rupp Arena to watch two of college basketball’s most talented rosters square off, Cauley-Stein had the game of his life.
The 6-foot-11 junior center, who had an opportunity to be selected in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, showed how much returning to the Wildcats has helped his stock with a career-high 21 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and three blocked shots in No. 1 Kentucky’s 63-51 win over No. 6 Texas.
“Willie Cauley-Stein was terrific. I mean, he was really the difference in the game,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "... I wish he was on my team."
“He was ridiculous today,” UK coach John Calipari added.
So much so that Calipari elected to tweak his two-platoon system to keep Cauley-Stein on the floor as much as possible. He played on both platoons in place in Marcus Lee’s typical spot.
“He’s too good,” Calipari said. “… And I told my team I’ll do that with other guys, too.”
Kentucky (8-0) needed everything Cauley-Stein could muster in the rugged SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchup.
Texas (7-1) led by six points in the first half, the largest deficit the Cats have faced this season. But UK opened the second half with an 18-2 run to turn what had been a 26-26 game at the break into a 44-28 lead at the 11:20 mark. The Longhorns fought back within five with 1:44 to go, but could get no closer.
The Cats closed out the hard-fought win despite Texas holding them to 37.5 percent from the field (1-for-12 from 3-point range) and owning the glass 42-31. Connor Lammert led the Horns with nine rebounds, while Jonathan Holmes paced the visitors with 14 points.
"They're good right now, but when they get (guard Isaiah Taylor) back that's out, they're legitimately... we could be seeing them hopefully right down the last game, us and them," Calipari said of the Longhorns. "It could be that. I hope we're good enough to be that, but I see them being that kind of team."
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: We’ve noted earlier this season that this UK team is almost “slump-proof” due to its depth of talent at every position. Tonight’s game demonstrated that as the Cats saw their four guards – Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis – go a combined 4-for-27 from the field and UK found a way to beat the No. 6 team in the country by double-digits.
KEY MOMENT: UK’s “White” platoon – the second unit, playing with Cauley-Stein in place of Lee – opened the second half with a 10-0 spurt that threw gas on the fire of an already stoked Rupp Arena crowd of 24,340. Texas star forward Jonathan Holmes picked up his third foul just 15 seconds into the second half, and the Longhorns found themselves in a deep hole minutes later.
STAT OF THE DAY: Kentucky’s defense forced 22 turnovers as part of an effort which saw the Cats hold Texas to 29.8 percent from the field. It marked the fifth opponent this season that failed to reach the 30-percent shooting mark against UK.
QUOTABLE: "I don’t know if I have ever coached a game where the size and the strength, physicality was what it was. I’m sure if you ask the referees, too, I don’t think they have ever officiated a game like that. That was a big-boy game.” – Texas coach Rick Barnes.
UP NEXT: Kentucky returns to action Sunday against Eastern Kentucky in a 6 p.m. ET tipoff at Rupp Arena. The Colonels (4-2) have averaged 8.6 made 3-pointers a game this year and should be a good test for UK’s perimeter defense.
Kentucky coach John Calipari...
Texas coach Rick Barnes...