Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

February 4, 2014

Can Cauley-Stein keep it moving forward?

LEXINGTON — So, what will it be, Willie?

Kentucky's enigmatic 7-footer should have a warning label stripped across his back: May cause motion sickness.

Watching Willie Cauley-Stein play is like riding the county fair viking ship.

Back and forth, back and forth; a couple of sudden, jerking stops; and then back and forth, back and forth.

One point and one block to eight points and six rejections; black hair to gold curls, then back to dark; no points and four fouls on Saturday to 18 points, two shy of a career high, on Tuesday.

Cauley-Stein quelled the queasiness and uneasiness of Kentucky fans in the Wildcats' 80-64 win over Ole Miss.

The WCS Express was worth the ticket Tuesday. He was active from the time coach John Calipari hit the “go” button, inserting the big man at the 16:33-mark of the first half.

His impact was immediate, and needed — fellow post Cats Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson combined for three points and two boards in the first 20 minutes.

First, he threw down a dunk to polish off an alley-oop initiated by Andrew Harrison. Moments later, WCS grabbed a loose ball, spun and dropped in a deuce with the left hand.

“Well, he was outstanding tonight,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. “He finished everything at the basket. Even when we came up with somewhat of a stop, he would finish through contact.”

Another slam, this time off an Aaron Harrison assist, proved that the old Cauley-Stein was back. Or, is it the new Willie?

At this point, reverting back to the LSU-Missouri-Texas A&M-Tennessee Willie is not an option. Those games captured his recent offensive atrocity — he tallied four points in 52 minutes in those four contests.

For this team to be a factor in March, WCS must be completely out of hibernation.

The production may not always be through the roof, but goose eggs and snail-like efforts in the paint won't be taken well anymore.

He may not the most important player on the team, and he'll usually not be the highest scorer, but his length and athleticism give Kentucky an advantage on every defensive possession that he plays.

All told on Tuesday, Cauley-Stein amassed 18 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and a steal. He literally punched, not blocked, the ball late in the first half, deflating a Ladarius White shot attempt in the lane. On that same possession, he had another block and a deflection.

“We end up with 12 blocks because (Ole Miss) just thought they could drive it,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “He had defensive confidence, and there is such a thing as defensive confidence. He didn't have it against Missouri.”

The roar of the Rupp crowd fueled WCS, that was evident. The Big Blue faithful won't always be 23,000-strong in every arena, so that's something he'll have to get used to. But, by now, there shouldn't be any real surprises on the road for the sophomore.

So, again, what will it be, Willie?

If Tuesday is any indication, this season could be a much smoother ride.

And maybe Cats fans can even spare the Dramamine.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.

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