Cousins outgrowing his 6-11 frame

Hard to believe that, at 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, DeMarcus Cousins is still growing.

Physically, he’s a beast. An animal in a basketball uniform. But often, his temper has stood in the way of taking over games the way coach John Calipari has said he’s capable of doing.

Wednesday afternoon, that temper flared up as bad as it has so far in Cousins’ career. Just over two minutes into the first half, he was called for his first foul. Underneath the basket, he and Long Beach State’s Larry Anderson exchanged some words and a shove or two. Technical fouls were assessed to both.

As per Calipari’s all-but-official policy, Cousins was benched for the rest of the first half. For 17 minutes and 44 seconds of play, he watched from the bench, warm-ups on. So far this season, Calipari has taken a black-or-white approach to foul trouble in the first half. If players know they’re going to get benched, they’ll stay out of foul trouble.

Cousins still hasn’t caught on yet, at least not 100 percent. But like every freshman, he’s learning.

Some freshmen come into college with heads on straight, and the biggest adjustment to the college game is purely athletic. With Cousins, he’s already able to dictate the game in the paint when he wants to. His most significant adjustment from high school to college — an adjustment still very much in the works — is wanting to dictate the game every minute he’s on the floor.

“The kid did hit him, just walk away,” Calipari said of the technical foul on Cousins, who was not available after the game because of travel arrangements. “You hit him back, now you’re out the whole half. What do you do to your team? He wanted to argue the point and I was not buying it.

“It was a great lesson for (Cousins) because he went back in the second half and was tremendous,” he said.

Because of Cousins’ head of steam out of the locker room, he finished with a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds). He still only played 13 minutes in the game, partially because his services weren’t necessary as UK built up a lead late in the game. But while he was in, he controlled the game.

He just needs to realize: His team would be a lot better off if he were playing 33 minutes a game instead of 13.

“He has never been held to a standard that he is now,” Calipari said. “You just have to hold him to that standard and let him know that this action is going to get this reaction from me, every single time, not every once in a while. You are out, and we will win without you.”

In practice, his teammates say he is unstoppable. Perry Stevenson said Shaquille O’Neal may be the only player around that could give Cousins a hard time. But playing under the lights changes things. He shows glimpses of being an NBA lottery pick. But he also shows glimpses of a talented young man not quite ready to move up from the AAU circuit.

Finding ways to neutralize the immature moments has been difficult. Why change now? You haven’t lost yet.

But if he cuts down on those gaffes, like the technical in the first half, maybe Stevenson won’t have to wonder if Shaq would be a good match for Cousins. We very well may see for ourselves. Maybe even by this time next year.

That’s a big if, though. He still has a lot of growing to do.