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Cauley-Stein back in form as Kentucky pummels Georgia

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Willie Cauley-Stein had not been himself lately, playing uncharacteristically lackadaisical. But the Wildcats’ center responded Saturday against Georgia with his typical high-energy showing, and the No. 14 Wildcats won 79-54 at Rupp Arena.

Cauley-Stein finished with eight points, three rebounds, six blocks and six steals in a bounce-back game after one of his most ineffective efforts of the season Tuesday against Texas A&M, playing only nine minutes and finishing with one point, one rebound and no blocks.

“He was in a totally different frame of mind, and he performed,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Now, he was a little bit shaky at times out there, but he’s just now coming back from that other stuff, so you still had the dregs in there. He had a little bit of it in there. But I thought he played well, blocks, steals, moved his feet, made some buckets, two free throws. That’s who he is for us.”

The Wildcats (15-4, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) shot 49.1 percent from the floor, and they have now shot at least 44 percent in all six games in league play.

Georgia (10-8, 4-2) nearly got run out Rupp Arena in the first half, but the Bulldogs kept it close with a push early in the second. They held Kentucky without a field goal for a 3 1/2-minute stretch, and over that period Georgia pulled to within six points at 37-31.

But Kentucky countered with its mid-range game that had been clicking all game. Shooting guard Aaron Harrison hit a pair of 17-foot jump shots, neither hitting the rim, and small forward James Young added a 15-footer to bring the Wildcats’ lead back up to 13 points.

The Bulldogs set the pace early in the first half, keeping the game to the slow pace they like. Georgia is near the bottom of the SEC in possessions per game, and coach Mark Fox set the tone early by dragging out possessions. Guard Kenny Gaines, the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer at 12 points per game, did not play with a knee injury.

“It’s not an excuse, but we were fighting some adversity with that and different lineups,” Georgia forward Nemanja Djurisic said. “We weren’t able to offset them and be stable.”

Because of the injury and an injury that kept out Gaines’ backup, Juwan Parker, Fox was forced to play a bigger lineup than usual. Without either of his two shooting guards, he said his best bet was to keep the game slow and the score low, and the plan seemed to be working fine when the Bulldogs took an 8-6 lead with 14:04 left in the first half.

Then Kentucky found its rhythm. The Wildcats got in a groove on offense and defense, scoring quick and forcing Georgia into quick decisions on offense, causing bad shots and turnovers.

The Wildcats went on a 21-5 run, starting with 11 straight points from five different players, including a defensive rebound and run-out layup for reserve forward Derek Willis, garnering one of the biggest ovations of the first half from the near-capacity crowd.

By the end of the run, Georgia had shot 1 of 9 and committed five turnovers in an eight-minute span.

“Well, that was a SEC battle in which they whooped us,” Fox said. “We couldn’t slow them down enough to get back in it and just couldn’t score enough today to hang in there and make it a threat long enough.”

Cauley-Stein said he spent a lot of time over the past few weeks trying to figure out the source of his slump, but he never did. It was frustrating to him, he said, that he would enter games and not play with the zippiness and pep that usually defines his game.

“I was frustrated because in my head I was trying, but then when I went back and looked at it, it was like, ‘I don’t play like that.’ I don’t know why I was doing that,” he said. “And then some of the stuff was just mistakes after mistakes, and I’m not one to make a lot of mistakes, so when I did and it was over and over, it was just like I’ve never been in that position where I just kept on thinking about the mistakes instead of just playing.”

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