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Rewind: Rough, but no tumble for UK

Feb. 9, 2013
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.

Willie Cauley-Stein fights for the ball during one of several scrums in Kentucky's victory (Matt McCarty/TCP)

There was plenty of rough, but no tumble, for Kentucky.

Auburn employed a physical defense for much of the game, frustrating the Cats with a hands-on approach that led to several skirmishes and a lot of unfriendly glares. Despite the tactics, UK (17-6, 8-2) kept its composure and pulled away for a 72-62 victory at Rupp Arena that lacked aesthetic value but still qualified as the Cats' fifth consecutive win.

The game was physical from the outset and took an ugly turn late in the first half when Archie Goodwin and Jordan Granger had to be separated. Granger was ejected after being slapped with a flagrant two foul for throwing a punch, while Goodwin earned a technical foul for his part in the fisticuffs. Auburn's Frankie Sullivan was assed a flagrant one foul for a takedown on a breakaway by Kyle Wiltjer early in the second half.

Nerlens Noel did not record a blocked shot until 65 seconds remained in the game but finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Wiltjer added a team-high 14 points.

on the hustle and energy of Jarrod Polson and Willie Cauley-Stein affecting the game:
“We're so happy with Jarrod Polson, so happy with Willie Cauley-Stein, and it was nothing but energy. That's all it is. Just come out and ball. Quit worrying about how you're playing for yourself and worry about our team and just bring energy.”

“I thought our guys played a clean game,” – Auburn coach Tony Barbee, on the physical nature of the game

“I was not ready for that. I thought he was losing the ball. When he came around I thought he muffed it and I said, 'Oh no'. Then it was a sharp pass and I was like, 'Oh, okay.' It was a beautiful pass though.” – UK forward Willie Cauley-Stein, on Alex Poythress' behind the back pass to him for a dunk

John Calipari's mantra is recent weeks has been about the battle he's waged to get his young basketball team to understand it must concern itself more with the team as a whole than individual stats and performances, continually harping on that lesson. Willie Cauley-Stein and Jarrod Polson have clearly taken note and the two reserves changed the complexion of the game with their energy, effort and willingness to do whatever the team needed to extend the Cats' winning streak to a season-high five games. Neither player’s stat line will jump out at you but box scores also don't reflect possessions saved or gained by diving on the floor for loose balls, hustling back on defense to force a turnover on a fast break, bailing out a teammate by covering his man when he gets picked off by a screen or beaten off the bounce. Those two did all of those things and were critical to UK's victory.

Kentucky didn't pull away until midway through the second half but it was the altercation just before halftime that changed the tone of the afternoon. Archie Goodwin and Jordan Granger nearly went full UFC after getting mixed up on an inbound play under the Cats' basket, with Granger ultimately being ejected for what game officials concluded was a punch thrown at Goodwin. The Cats' freshman guard didn't escape unscathed either, receiving a personal foul before the altercation and then a technical foul for his reaction to Granger's punch. The dust up caused the predictable foul fest in the second half as the officials attempted to diffuse any further issues by utilizing a tight whistle.

1 – Nerlens Noel entered the game blocking shots at a dizzying rate in Southeastern Conference play, including seven of nine games where he swatted at least five shots, but could never find that form in this one. Auburn successfully pulled the 6-foot-11 freshman away from the basket throughout the game, negating his ability to turn away shots at the rim, either as a help defender or on his own man. Noel did not record a block until 1:05 remained, but did avoid his first collegiate game without recording a rejection by victimizing Auburn guard Chris Denson on a drive to the basket.

Willie Cauley-Stein said it best after the game when he gave voice to the concept that opponents are going to continue to try and physically batter the Cats the rest of the season. This is the reality UK will have to face because of their athletic advantage in most every game it plays. The Cats actually handled Auburn's tactics quite well on the whole, although the Tigers' scrappiness seemed to fluster the Cats at times on the offensive end of the floor. Still, there was growth and at this stage of the season that's what you want to see out of the young Cats.

Kentucky (17-6, 8-2) faces a daunting week on the road against Florida and Tennessee beginning with a 7 p.m. tip against the Gators on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at the O'Connell Center.

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