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February 15, 2013

Cats visit Tennessee for first post-Noel challenge

They're both tall. They both picked the same college.

And maybe that's not all that Kentucky forwards Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein have in common, but the list isn't extensive.

So when the 25th-ranked Wildcats (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) take on Tennessee (13-10, 5-6) Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., don't expect Cauley-Stein to fill the void left by Noel, the nation's leading shot-blocker, who is out for the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

"I'm not Nerlens," Cauley-Stein said Friday. "He does things that are just uncanny, like his ability to block shots. I don't have that ability. But what I do have is (I'm) athletic (and) able to play out on a guard, just simple stuff like that and just hustle. That's all I've got to take care of."

Cauley-Stein is the probable starter in the place of Noel, who tore his ACL in Tuesday's 69-52 loss at No. 7 Florida. But he's not expecting to pick up the slack in Noel's departure.

Not all of it. No one can do that.

"(Noel) was such a strong force on the team that his presence was an impact to everybody," Cauley-Stein said. "Without it, more people just got to step up and do their job and start focusing on what the team needs them to do to win the next games that we need to win to make the tournament."

Some of that responsibility falls on Cauley-Stein. But he won't be asked to alter what he does in Noel's absence. He'll just be asked to do it better.

"You're not Nerlens (Noel), but Nerlens is not you," UK coach John Calipari said he told Cauley-Stein. "There's things you do well that Nerlens didn't do well. So, you just be you. You don't have to be anything else."

He just has to be something more. His teammates do, too.

Though Noel was most impactful on the defensive end - he led UK in blocks (106), steals (50) and rebounding (9.5 per game) - he also averaged 10.5 points per game for a team that has struggled to score.

"I think we all have to step up," said guard Jon Hood, who figures to see increased minutes with Noel's season finished. "I don't think it's on any specific one player. It's on the full team."

And though there are tweaks to be made on offense and especially defense - Calipari conceded he might further experiment with the zone defense he's employed at times - UK's biggest adjustment might be in attitude.

With Noel, the Wildcats were a probable NCAA Tournament team. Without him, Kentucky's being largely written off. UK didn't make the field in the media's NCAA Tournament mock selection this week in Indianapolis.

So now it's a Cats-against-the-world approach. Hood said UK hasn't been "fully together" and that Noel's injury is the sort of thing that can pull a team closer. And Cauley-Stein said Kentucky can draw motivation from the reaction to Noel's injury.

"I remember two hours after people got the (Noel) news, people - our fans - were saying like, 'Oh, our season's over,' blah, blah, blah," Cauely-Stein said. "We still got, what, seven more games before we even get to a tournament? It can be whatever you want it to be. You can either go back or you can go forward, and I think everybody on the team's trying to make it forward."

So Kentucky has to take small steps to make up for Noel's absence, Cauley-Stein said. Each of the Wildcats' guards needs to get a rebound or two more per game, he said. Perimeter defenders - with no elite shot-blocker to erase their mistakes - have to be more committed to maintaining the dribble.

And the Cats, Cauley-Stein said, have no excuse not to give it their all in every minute of every game. The pressure's off.

"Now it's one of those things where we can be the aggressor coming into a game," Cauley-Stein said. "People don't think we're going to win without him. We've just got to step up as a team and put it together like coach is telling us to."

Calipari has told his players they can make whatever they choose out of the remaining season. Kentucky still has enough talent, he said, to get its act together down the season's home stretch.

"One guy's misery is another guy's opportunity," Calipari said, and the question is whether these Cats can seize it.

"This team has a clean slate," Calipari said. "It's a blank canvas. It's whatever they want it to be."


KENTUCKY AT TENNESSEE | SATURDAY | 1 P.M. | CBS
No. 25 KENTUCKY (17-7, 8-3 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (119-21 in fourth season at Kentucky; 522-159 in 21st season overall)
Last game: Lost to Florida 69-52
Roster | Stats
TENNESSEE (13-10, 5-6 SEC)
Coach: Cuonzo Martin (32-25 in second season at Tennessee; 93-66 in fifth season overall)
Last game: Beat Vanderbilt 58-46
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Ryan Harrow So. 6-2/170 9.9 2.3
G Julius Mays Sr. 6-2/192 9.3 2.9
G Archie Goodwin Fr. 6-5/198 13.9 4.6
F Willie Cauley-Stein Fr. 7-0/244 7.8 5.5
F Alex Poythress Fr. 6-7/239 12.0 6.3
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Trae Goldon Jr. 6-2/205 10.4 2.8
G Jordan McRae Jr. 6-5/178 13.7 3.6
G Josh Richardson So. 6-6/188 8.1 4.7
G Armani Moore Fr. 6-5/203 2.3 2.8
F Jarnell Stokes So. 6-8/270 12.6 8.6
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678), Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: CBS (Ian Eagle play by play, Clark Kellogg analyst)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst); Sirius 135/XM 201.
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Kentucky by 1.5

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 149-66
At Knoxville: Kentucky leads 53-47
Coaches' records: Calipari 10-4 vs. Tennessee; Martin 0-3 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Kentucky 75, Tennessee 65, Jan. 15, Lexington, Ky.
The Volunteers tied the game 56-56 with a pair of Derek Reese free throws with 6:27 to play, but the Wildcats pulled away down the stretch, and. Kyle Wiltjer scored five of his team-high 17 points in the closing minutes as UK avoided a second-straight home loss. Nerlens Noel had 12 points, nine rebounds, six blocked shots and four steals. Ryan Harrow added 12 points and Alex Poythress 10 for UK. Jordan McRae led the Vols with 23.

Keys to the Game
1. He's Stoked: Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes was a non-factor the last time the Cats and Vols met, finishing with five points and four rebounds before fouling out in 16 minutes. Much has changed since then. Nerlens Noel, who did the bulk of the defensive work on Stokes is out for the season. And Stokes is playing the best basketball of his season. He's on a streak of six straight double-doubles, including a game against Alabama in which he grabbed 18 rebounds. The 6-foot-8, 270-pound sophomore likely is the key to Tennessee's chances.

2. Struggling Shooters: With Noel sidelined, Kentucky needs a better defensive effort but also an offensive boost. A three-point shooting barrage would help, but it likely would have to come from Julius Mays or Kyle Wiltjer. The Cats are fifth in the SEC in three-point field-goal percentage in league play, but UK is 10-for-33 in its past two games. Shooting guard Archie Goodwin is the Cat guiltiest of bringing down the average. Goodwin is 1-for-19 from three-point range in SEC play. Ryan Harrow is 1-for-4 over his past three games.

3. Fresh Look: Though it's perhaps not a game key, it's notable that Kentucky will don a different look for Saturday's game. The Wildcats will wear alternate road jerseys with the interlocking UK on the front in place of "Kentucky." It will mark the second-straight season the Cats have sported an alternate look against the Volunteers. In a win at home last season, UK wore Nike's "Platinum" jerseys.



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