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October 24, 2012

Cauley-Stein plays starring role in Blue-White scrimmage

He had to bring it.

Willie Cauley-Stein was on the Blue team, the second-string squad, playing the presumed Kentucky starters in front of 12,016 fans in Rupp Arena.

So it was time to bring it, just like the Wildcats do in practice every day.

"We had to go at them like that," Cauley-Stein said. "Otherwise, it was going to be ugly."

It was anything but ugly for the Blue team, which built an eight-point halftime lead en route to an 89-88 win in Wednesday's Blue-White scrimmage. Cauley-Stein, who played for the White team in the second half, showcased why coach John Calipari has been raving about him for months and continued to do so after the game.

Calipari said he looked at his players after the first half and saw only two - Cauley-Stein and senior guard Julius Mays - who had played at a starter-worthy level.

That actuality is far away, but Cauley-Stein certainly showed promise, scoring 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting with 12 rebounds and five blocks.

It was a stat line comparable to, if not better than, Cauley-Stein's more-heralded fellow freshman center, Nerlens Noel, who had nine points on 4-of-7 shooting with eight rebounds and seven blocks.

"It's not even really a competition," Cauley-Stein said of he and Noel matched up against each other. "In practice, it's not even - most people would think that since we were both in the top of the class, and he comes in at No. 1 and I'm kind of an underdog, that I'm going at his head every time. But it's not even like that. You just respect each other's game."

And learn from it.

"At the end of the day, we're just making each other better," Cauley-Stein said. "There's going to be nobody like us playing. You will not play a 7-footer who can jump like Nerlens. You will not play a 7-footer as quick as me."

Cauley-Stein showed more than just that quickness and athleticism. In the first half, he made a left-handed hook shot in the lane and a turnaround bank shot from inside the elbow.

Those weren't shots he was making a year ago. Six months ago, even. He had none of that in high school.

"Not at all," Cauley-Stein said.

But working with assistant coaches Kenny Payne and Orlando Antigua for 30-45 minutes on post moves before practice begins has developed his offensive game. He's not all the way there, but the work is already showing.

"Eventually it's going to come," Cauley-Stein said.

Another thing that's going to come: conditioning.

Although he started off the game energetic, Cauley-Stein said his legs were "dead" in the second half. He wasn't as springy, wasn't as bouncy. Calipari said he's "not ready" to play 30 minutes.

The result: Cauley-Stein counted only six "hustle points" - buckets off loose balls or rebounds - for himself. His goal is to get at least 10 per game from outworking his opponent.

"I think that's just pride," Cauley-Stein said. "If you're going to get hustle points, that's just easy points."

That's a philosophy that sounds like it comes from a veteran, which is closer to how Mays regards Cauley-Stein.

The fifth-year senior said he doesn't expect any freshmen center to have a high basketball IQ, and he didn't think Cauley-Stein would be any different.

Mays was quickly surprised.

"The way he thinks through the game and the way he moves out there," Mays said, "you won't see too many big guys doing that out there."

Cauley-Stein delivered a few of those moments Wednesday, and raised the bar for his own expectations, at least as far as the bar can be raised in an intrasquad scrimmage.

"I just want minutes," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't care if I start. Really, I don't even have to start. I just want to finish the game."


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