LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein struggled so much lately that he came off the bench and played only seven minutes Saturday against Missouri.
He forced his way out of the slump, at least for one game, with a memorable performance Tuesday against Ole Miss. Cauley-Stein had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks off the bench, and the 18th-ranked Wildcats beat the Rebels 80-64 at Rupp Arena.
“We ended up with 12 blocks because (Ole Miss) just thought they could drive it, and that’s what (Cauley-Stein) does,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He had great defensive confidence, and there is such a thing as defensive confidence. He didn’t have that at Missouri. He left early, he was antsy, he left his feet on 6-foot guys and fouled. But today, he had it. I was really proud of him.”
Kentucky (17-5, 7-2) separated itself from Ole Miss (15-7, 6-3) in the Southeastern Conference standings with the win. Halfway into the league’s 18-game schedule, Kentucky is now alone in second place behind No. 3 Florida.
The first half was tightly contested, as each team held leads as large as five points but never larger. That trend held true three minutes into the second half, but the Wildcats finally broke away with a run from which Ole Miss would not recover.
Rebels coach Andy Kennedy was forced to call timeout when Kentucky forward Julius Randle scored his first field goal, recovering a steal and running up the right side three-quarters of the court before throwing down a two-handed slam over an Ole Miss defender in a full sprint. The play sent Rupp Arena into a frenzy.
At that point, Kentucky had scored seven straight, and the run extended to 10-2.
Once the Wildcats built their lead to double digits, the Rebels only once got as close as seven points.
The Rebels finished 25 of 65 (38.5 percent) from the floor, while the Wildcats made 26 of 51 shots (51 percent).
The Wildcats mixed their defense up regularly on Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, the Rebels’ freewheeling gunner who finished with a team-high 16 points. Calipari threw four different players at Henderson in the first half and seven total, including 6-foot-8 forward Alex Poythress, 6-9 Randle and 7-footer Cauley-Stein.
“That’s what I really take pride in,” Cauley-Stein said. “Guys think that because I’m so long and tall I can’t guard them. When I do guard them, it’s like you kind of peep them after like a dead ball and they look at the coaches, like, ‘Dude, I can’t get past him and I can’t shoot over him, so what are we supposed to do?’ That kind of, like, gets you, like, ‘All right, good, he’s probably not going to come back this way, so I’m good, I don’t have to guard him again.'”
Henderson took a few shots early but didn’t make his first until a slick layup with 9:42 left in the first half, at which point Kentucky was up 21-20.
Two minutes later, Henderson hit back-to-back 3-pointers — both with hands in his face — to give the Rebels a 28-23 lead with 6:56 to go. Calipari called a timeout.
Henderson finished the game with a team-high 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting. He was 4-for-12 from 3-point range, taking double-figure attempts from deep for the sixth time in seven SEC games since serving a two-game suspension.
A 7-2 Kentucky run, on which guard Aaron Harrison scored six points, gave the Wildcats back a one-possession lead.
Harrison had 12 points as Kentucky led Ole Miss 35-34 at halftime.
“We’ve never been very proficient at the rim, but I thought in the first half our big guys were cleaning some balls up and finishing around the basket,” Kennedy said. “That’s what kept us in the game.”
Kennedy said as the game wore on, his guards tired because of Kentucky’s size, and the Wildcats pulled away. Cauley-Stein had a lot to do with that, Kennedy acknowledged.
“He’s most certainly a very capable player, and tonight his length was bothersome,” Kennedy said. “Six blocks, he finished everything at the basket. Even when we would come up with something of a stop, he was always there to get the loose ball.”
NOTES: G Jarvis Summers and G
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