Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Kentucky’s victory over Providence on Sunday night at the Barclays Center.
By all accounts, Kentucky is still a team finding its identity despite an impressive 7-1 start to the season. “I still haven’t figured this team out,” said Wildcats head coach John Calipari after the game. After Sunday night’s 79-65 win over Providence (7-2), Calipari and Kentucky may have found something that will serve them very well down the road. Led by Willie Cauley-Stein’s near triple-double performance (15 points, eight rebounds, nine blocks), the Wildcats dominated both ends of the floor in the victory. Cauley-Stein’s nine rejections were a career-high and the most by a UK player since Nerlens Noel blocked 12 shots against Mississippi back in January. Kentucky shot a piping-hot 64.3 percent from the floor while limiting Providence to 31.1 percent despite the Friars attempting 19 more shots thanks to a strong offensive rebounding performance and 14 Wildcat turnovers. Bryce Cotton led short-handed Providence with a game-high 23 points in defeat as the Friars played without point guard Kris Dunn (shoulder) and suspended freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock.
Cauley-Stein was the story of this game. It was a breakout performance on both ends of the floor for the seven-foot sophomore from the Kansas City suburbs. More importantly, it is more evidence that this Kentucky squad is full of potential and still has room to grow over the next three months. One particular sequence encapsulated everything Cauley-Stein brought to this game. The big man blocked a shot right at the rim and proceeded to sprint down the floor in time to throw down a thunderous dunk off a beautifully executed fast break that had the partisan Kentucky crowd going crazy. Asked about that sequence, Cauley-Stein not surprisingly said, “I was extremely hyped.” He played a fantastic game and was the main reason why Providence shot just 9-of-42 (21.4%) from two-point range. It was the difference in the game as both teams shot well from beyond the arc but it was the Wildcats who dominated the points in the paint to the tune of 36-14.