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Rewind: Cats steamroll Samford

Dec. 4, 2012
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.

Freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein had 12 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and two steals in Kentucky's 88-56 victory

Kentucky opened its day by landing yet another top-flight recruit and ended it by reversing the struggles of the past two games by starting a new home winning streak.

The Cats defeated Samford 88-56, suffocating the Bulldogs in the first half before easing off the gas in the second half and rankling coach John Calipari in the process. Kentucky held Samford to 20 percent shooting in the first half before giving up more made field goals and more in points in the first eight minutes of the second half than the entire first 20 minutes.

Willie Cauley-Stein had a versatile night, scoring 12 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, blocking four shots and picking up three steals. Archie Goodwin led the Cats with 18 points.

Kentucky forced 14 first half turnovers, steadily increasing its lead as it got easy buckets in transition that led to 13 fast break points. Samford coach Bennie Seltzer didn't help matters either as he drew a technical foul that helped the Cats have the rare five-point possession that also included a Kyle Wiltjer three-point play.

“If I was mad, you'd know I was mad. I'm fine. This is what they need. I'm not mad. They're going to get in shape. I don't know why else they wouldn't play when we've lost our last two games because we didn't compete. So you come out for 20 minutes and you compete, then you come out the second half and you don't. Then you're not in shape or you don't care. I don't even want to go that way. I don't even want to hint that way. So they're not in shape then. But they will be.'

“I never envisioned my team coming out and playing like it did in first half. I thought we were a little spooked from the very beginning. I guess once you get down 30 I guess you get a little settled in so I thought they played a lot better in the second half.” – Samford coach Bennie Seltzer

“It all mental. (Calipari) is trying to get us more mental toughness. There is no way we can't be in shape. Going through the offseason and even how practices are now, there is no way we are not in shape. It's all mental.” – UK freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein, on Calipari saying the team isn't in shape

It seems hard to believe that no Kentucky player had managed to log a double-double in the first seven games, and maybe even more difficult to believe that it was a non-starter who finally reached that measuring stick. Freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein had his best night as a collegiate player in notching that feat in just 22 minutes. Cauley-Stein scored 12 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked four shots and snagged three steals without turning the ball over, once again showing the glimpses of elite talent he may ultimately realize with more experience.

If John Calipari's threats of putting his team through 7 a.m. conditioning drills for the next three weeks comes to fruition then you can look back at the first six minutes of the second half as they reason. Kentucky's effort was terrific in the first half, leading to a dominating performance that saw the Cats hold Samford to just four made field goals and 14 total points. But instead of building on that the Cats immediately took a step back to start the second half, giving up a 9-0 run before finally scoring. By the time the clock read 13:55 the Cats had already given up as many points in the second half as the first half on the way to yielding a 51.5 percent second half shooting clip.

While everyone outside of Willie Cauley-Stein had an average or below second half there was plenty to like about what Nerlens Noel did on the night as a whole. The freshman forward was incredibly active early on getting in passing lanes, blocking shots and providing the Cats with some energy. Noel finished with 13 points, six rebounds, five blocks and two steals in 25 minutes of work, giving him at least six rebounds in all eight of the Cats' games.

60.3 – There is an obvious difference in level of competition but Kentucky is now shooting 60.3 percent from the field in its four victories over non-power conference opponents after hitting 55.7 percent against the Bulldogs. The Cats have made 140-of-232 shots against Lafayette, Morehead State, LIU-Brooklyn and Samford and converted at at least 51.1 percent in each of those games. In the four outings against Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor the shooting percentage free falls to 39.5 percent (89-of-225).

This is what Kentucky is right now. The Cats were brilliant for a half and then mailed it in for the second half, which is why you're going to see coach John Calipari have more and more exasperation until this group figures out you can't play that way. The big question is whether or not this particular collection of talented players possesses the mental toughness and edge necessary to come close to replicating what Calipari's first three Kentucky teams have done. The jury may be out on that for a while.

Kentucky (5-3) returns to the Rupp Arena court at noon on Saturday, Dec. 8 against Portland.

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