UK prepares for Auburn, may be without Cauley-Stein

UK forward Willie Cauley-Stein is guarded by Vanderbilt forward Rod Odom during the first half of the UK vs. Vanderbilt men's basketball game at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Ky., on Thursday, January 10, 2013. UK won 60-58. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff

By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

dschuh@kykernel.com

As the UK men’s basketball team prepared for their Saturday night game with Auburn this week, they found out they may be without a key player.

That player, freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, had a minor procedure on his knee Thursday and is “to be determined” for Saturday’s game, UK says.

According to a UK release, it is an old injury that was re-aggravated in the Tennessee game. Head coach John Calilpari was vague in his comments regarding the issue Friday, but it sounds like he doesn’t expect Cauley-Stein out too long.

“We’re presuming he’s not going to play (Saturday),” Calipari said. “We’re one short for a short while. Thank God it was nothing major.”

Without the 7-foot freshman, the Cats’ depth will be more of an issue. The team has mostly played with a seven-man rotation, not counting junior guard Jarrod Polson’s 11.4 minutes per game. Now for the immediate future, it appears like Polson and junior forward Jon Hood could get significant upgrades in minutes. Hood will return Saturday for his first game since being sidelined in December for an “upper respiratory illness.”

Auburn head coach Tony Barbee spent six years under Calipari at Memphis, so UK knows they’ll see a lot of their own strategy out of the Tigers.

“They play extremely hard and they’re physical,” Calipari said. “I would predict they’ll play a lot of zone this game. Tony is really good and he knows how we play..It’s going to be a difficult game.”

Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer will be expected to play a slightly bigger role if Cauley-Stein is out. Not only will he have to play more time at the four position, he will be counted on for more minutes. And, ironically, Wiltjer is coming off what may have been his best game of the season against Tennessee.

“I’ll have to definitely step up,” Wiltjer said. “They’re a very energetic team. They run some dribble-drive like us. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing.”

The game marks the first in a stretch of four out of five games on the road for UK. They will tip off Saturday night at 9 p.m. It will be televised nationally on ESPNU.