LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — 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.”
For a while the Longhorns seemed to have an answer for Kentucky’s big boys. Their first-half athleticism earned a 27-11 rebounding advantage, including a 15-2 edge on the offensive glass that helped build several leads and even things at the break.
Then came Kentucky’s lineup change that turned the game with Cauley-Stein making two steals along with a pair of free throws. Johnson added two jumpers while Trey Lyles had four points including a thunderous dunk off a feed from Johnson.
Texas stayed close but just didn’t have enough for Kentucky.
“They’re the No. 1 team for a reason and we knew they were going to make a run,” Holmes said. “We were expecting them to make a run and we knew coming into the game we would have to bounce back. We tried to come back and they did a good job of not letting us.”
Texas was leading 20-14 when Holmes was called for a flagrant foul on Towns that sent the 6-11 freshman crashing to the floor. The momentum quickly changed as Towns made both free throws and then a jumper on the subsequent possession before grabbing a defensive rebound setting up Tyler Ulis’ game-tying jumper.
ALL OR NOTHING
Free throws were an adventure for Texas reserve center Prince Ibeh, whose high-arcing shot had varying results. One attempt was an air ball that missed badly to the left; another bounced off the back of the rim before falling through. He finished 2 of 8 from the line.
Texas: The Longhorns committed 22 turnovers leading to 19 points.
Kentucky: The Wildcats missed all five 3-point attempts in the first half and were 1 of 12 overall.
Texas: Hosts Texas State on Dec. 13.
Kentucky: Hosts Eastern Kentucky on Sunday.
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