So what’s wrong with Willie Cauley-Stein?

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Inquiring minds want to know: What’s wrong with Willie Cauley-Stein?

Could it be the hair? As a blonde, the 7-foot sophomore shot-blocker seemed to be having much more fun. Since returning to his original hair color, at least of late, he has slipped into a serious slump.

In UK’s 68-51 topping of Texas A&M on Tuesday night, Cauley-Stein logged all of nine minutes on the Rupp Arena floor, his briefest playing time since he was afforded just four minutes against Texas A&M in UK’s overtime win at College Station last year. (Must be something about those Aggies.) In fact, on Tuesday he logged the third-fewest minutes that he has played in a game during his two-year UK career. He played just six minutes against Duke in the Georgia Dome on Nov. 13, 2012.

Unfortunately, Tuesday was just a continuation of Willie’s downward trend. The Kansas native played just 18 minutes at Arkansas last week before fouling out of that overtime game. He grabbed six rebounds but scored just two points. Then Saturday against Tennessee, Cauley-Stein was held scoreless in 19 minutes, missing all five of his shots.

In his past three games, Cauley-Stein has played 46 minutes and is one of nine from the floor. He has 10 rebounds, three points and two turnovers, and he is one of four from the foul line. He has blocked two shots.

On Monday, UK assistant John Robic said Cauley-Stein has trouble against more physical players. He doesn’t always position himself and has a tendency to be thrown around. He has to fight more, and he knows that if he doesn’t, he’ll be on bench.

 

We’re bearing down on February, however, and no doubt the Cats need to get Willie back to being Willie. Earlier in the year, he was a shot-swatting force on defense, rejecting nine shots in games against Providence and Boise State.

The stats show that through the Boise State game on Dec. 10, he had blocked 43 shots. He has blocked just 15 shots in the eight games since.

And if you’re wondering what Willie has had to say about all this, we’re wondering, too. He hasn’t been made available to the media since he scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in UK’s win at Vanderbilt on Jan. 11.

John Calipari doesn’t open his locker room after games. We’re afforded three “selected” players for post-game interviews. Last night’s session — Julius Randle, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson were the participants — lasted a little more than seven minutes. By the time I did video of Johnson and Poythress, Randle was gone.

When we asked Calipari in the post-game presser about Cauley-Stein, John did what John does. He drifted off to other topics until he ended up talking about Derek Willis.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with Willie, but he’ll be fine,” Calipari said. “I just look, when you’re a coach and you coach the game to win. Then you work on egos and all the other stuff after. Dakari (Johnson) was playing better than him, so I started Dakari. Dakari continued to play better than him. At the end of the game, I said, look, we’re going at you. You got to get going here, kid. He turned and fumbled. I mean, it didn’t get any better.

“You know, he wants to do well. He was doing really well, and he backed up a little bit. It’s like a slippery slope. When you back up, you don’t keep bringing it. All of a sudden you go that other way. This sport is mental as much as anything else.

“It’s like Alex right now. Mentally, Alex thinks he’s going to kill you, so he will. Last year that’s not how Alex was thinking. So he wasn’t in the shape to do it. I’m glad I got Marcus Lee in. I wanted to get Derek (Willis) in a little bit and I didn’t because he’s starting to play better. I’ve just got to find minutes for him.”

So back to the subject at hand: What’s wrong with Willie Cauley-Stein?

Back in Joe B. Hall days, they used to call it the January slump. Right now, that’s as good a guess as any.

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