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When the UK men’s basketball team travels to Auburn Saturday, it could be without one of its starters.
After undergoing a “minor procedure” Thursday to address the resurfacing of an old injury to his left knee, UK freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein’s status for Saturday’s game is to be determined, UK announced Friday.
Cauley-Stein is averaging 7.4 points, seven rebounds and 1.8 blocks in five games since moving to the starting lineup. On the season, he is averaging 7.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
“The impact if he doesn’t play is that we’re one short of where we were,” said UK head coach John Calipari. “But against Duke he played six minutes. Maryland, he was not a factor. So what happens is, other guys got to step up and play. Jarrod (Polson) has got to get some minutes, maybe Jon Hood gets some minutes and is effective, but obviously we’re not as big and long as we were with him.”
Hood has missed UK’s last six games with an upper respiratory illness, but he returned to practice this week.
If Cauley-Stein is forced to miss game time, Calipari could move either senior guard Julius Mays or sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer into the starting lineup.
Sophomore guard Ryan Harrow thinks it’s more likely Calipari would have Mays start.
“Alex (Poythress) is going to move to the four, maybe,” Harrow said. “And we’ve just got to go over things in practice today to get ready for the game.”
Wiltjer is coming off his most complete game of the season with 17 points, five rebounds and two blocks. Unlike most most of his big scoring games, all but six of Wiltjer’s points came from inside the three-point arc.
Even if he doesn’t start, Wiltjer’s improvement should serve UK well in Cauley-Stein’s absence, Harrow said.
“I think he’s still going to be coming off the bench to give us the scoring off the bench,” he said. “But it’s just a time for all of us to step up a little bit.”
Since Auburn starts one player taller than 6-foot-6, UK may be able to better withstand Cauley-Stein absence than it would against a taller team, but Calipari thinks his presence would be valuable Saturday.
“That’s why it would have been better for us to have another big guy,” he said. “Again, we’re presuming he’s not going to play, but (Auburn’s size is) the reason you look at this and say that size helps you in this kind of game.”
Auburn is 8-8 on the season and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play. With or without Cauley-Stein, Calipari expects a tough game against the Tigers, who are coached by his former assistant Tony Barbee.
“Tony’s really good and he knows how we play,” Calipari said. “Some of the stuff they’re running is the stuff that we run, but a lot of it’s his own stuff, and he’s doing good stuff. It’s really good. I’m proud of him.”