Cats’ toughness tested in 72-62 win over Auburn


Freshman guard Archie Goodwin, takes a shot during the first half of the University of Kentucky basketball game against Auburn on February 9th, 2013. Kentucky up 37 to 31.Photo by Kirsten Holliday

By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

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A team of freshman needs a lot of things over the course of their inaugural season. They need to be tested in many different ways, all hopefully preparing them for the toughness of basketball in March.

Saturday, against Auburn, UK got the toughness test.

The Cats may not have passed, but they powered through, fighting to a 72-62 win, a game that saw 50 total fouls called.

“We responded really well,” freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein said of the physical play. “They were playing real cheap, but every game is going to be like that from here on out. Everybody wants to win. For us, we’ve just got to keep on playing through it.”

The physicality was apparent from the very beginning, and consequently, the foul counts rose quickly.

It all boiled over with 1:12 left in the half when, after freshman guard Archie Goodwin fouled Auburn freshman forward Jordon Granger, Grainger responded by taking a swing at Goodwin.

The refs took several minutes to check the monitors before assessing Granger with a flagrant 2 foul, resulting in his ejection. Goodwin was hit with a personal foul as well as technical for retaliation, which greatly contributed to his consistent foul trouble that limited him to a season-low 17 minutes.

All that aside, the Cats took a 37-31 lead to halftime.

The second half brought a heightened sense of physical play, especially from the Tigers. Most likely attributed to the ejection earlier, the referees began calling the game extremely tight. There were 30 fouls called in the second half.

“It got a little bit out of control,” junior guard Jarrod Polson said. “I think that’s what most teams are doing to us right now. We’re doing a lot better playing against that.”

Auburn kept the lead under 10 for most of the half, but a dunk by freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein was followed by a transition three from sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer drove the lead to 12 midway through the second half. The Cats would never let it back under double-digits.

Freshman center Nerlens Noel didn’t record his first block until just before the last minute of the game, yet continued his streak of having a blocked shot in every game this season.

A late free throw also gave Noel his third straight double-double. He finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

They made progress, Calipari said, yet still, there are many hurdles to cross before they’re where he wants them to be.

“When we break through, you all will know it,” Calipari said. “You’ll say ‘Oh my gosh, he got them. He finally convinced them to quit playing for themselves and just be a team player.’”

The win marks the Cats’ first five-game winning streak of the season as they eye Tuesday night’s game at SEC No. 1 Florida.

But, as he has said day after day this season, Calipari is only focusing on teaching his young team how to play — and how to live.

“I’m trying to help them understand what joy is,” he said. “That joy that my other teams have felt, unless they change, they’re not going to feel that joy. That’s my challenge. It’s all about life skills with this team.”