No. 1 'Cats take down No. 6 Texas
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Willie Cauley-Stein was determined to make an impact no matter which Kentucky platoon he played on against No. 6 Texas.
The Wildcats' 7-foot junior succeeded by making the Longhorns feel his presence all night.
Cauley-Stein had a career-high 21 points and made several defensive plays to key Kentucky's 18-2 run to open the second half, helping the top-ranked Wildcats beat No. 6 Texas 63-51 on Friday night in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Normally playing on the first of Kentucky's two talented platoons, Cauley-Stein began alongside fellow 7-footer Dakari Johnson and 6-10 Trey Lyles on the second squad and the big trio sparked the Wildcats' game-changing 8-minute sequence after a 26-all halftime tie.
They combined for the spurt's first 10 points before Cauley-Stein's tip-in provided a 44-28 lead with 11:20 remaining. That gave Kentucky (8-0) the cushion to hold off the stubborn Longhorns (7-1), who regrouped to close to 56-51 with 1:44 left before Cauley-Stein added a free throw and dunk.
"I was more confident," said Cauley-Stein, who shot 6 of 11 from the field while logging 33 minutes. "I've been working on my game and I had confidence. That was the biggest thing, doing it. It paid off."
Cauley-Stein's rebounding was a big boost for Kentucky, which was outrebounded 42-31 by Texas. Johnson finished with 11 points and Karl-Anthony Towns added 10, but the postgame talk centered on Cauley-Stein.
"He was ridiculous today," Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Johnson called his teammate's game "crazy," adding, "hopefully, he'll have more nights like this."
Jonathan Holmes scored 14 points and Demarcus Holland 10 for Texas, which shot just 30 percent in falling to 0-8 against the No. 1 team.
Things were nonetheless tense in a game featuring a number of subplots, including Kentucky guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison seeking big performances against their home state's marquee school. That didn't happen as the 6-6 twins combined for just seven points on 3-for-17 shooting, but Andrew Harrison hit a big 3-pointer with 2:47 left for a 56-47 lead that proved critical.
The Wildcats came away with another signature win following last month's 72-40 drubbing of then-No. 5 Kansas in Indianapolis. But beating the athletic and physical Longhorns required a lot of energy and grit by Kentucky.
"I don't think I've ever coached in a game, where the size, strength and physicality was what it was," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "If you ask the referees, I don't think they've probably officiated a game like that. That was a big-boy game."