Lyles Starts for Poythress, Cauley-Stein Has Big Day as Kentucky Routs North Carolina | Zagsblog
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Sunday / September 25.
  • Lyles Starts for Poythress, Cauley-Stein Has Big Day as Kentucky Routs North Carolina

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    NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Kansas vs KentuckyBy JOSH NEWMAN

    With Alex Poythress done for the season because of a torn ACL, some believed John Calipari’s platoon system would take a hit. 

    At least on Saturday, that notion proved false. Based on what went on during the Wildcats’ 84-70 rout of the University of North Carolina on Saturday, Poythress being out may actually turn out to be helpful.

    Trey Lyles started in place of Poythress, then stayed on the floor as part of the usual second platoon. Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker all saw an increase in minutes, and Willie Cauley-Stein (15 points, 6-for-9 FGs, six rebounds, four steals, two blocks) continued his ascension up draft boards as the top-ranked Wildcats (11-0) remain on a collision course with No. 4 and fellow-unbeaten Louisville. The in-state rivals will play on Dec. 27 at the KFC Yum! Center.

    “You had one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight guys, Marcus Lee played 12 and got eight points in 12 minutes,” Calipari said. “And the reason he played 12 is because Willie played 28.”

    “And Willie Cauley was really, he was ‘Willie good’ today.”

    Kentucky got out to an 8-6 lead before Calipari made substituted platoons at the 16:37 mark. Instead of pulling Lyles along with the Harrison twins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Cauley-Stein, Calipari left him in there with Ulis, Booker, Lee and Dakari Johnson. 

    The result was an immediate 11-2 run to give the Wildcats control for good at 19-8 with 14:31 to play before halftime. North Carolina got no closer than three points the rest of the way.

    “Because he had played with the second guys, that’s why I did it,” Calipari said of leaving Lyles in. “Now, what I’ve told Aaron and Andrew and Trey, ‘Whichever one of you is playing the best will continue to play.'”

    The uptick in minutes, especially for Lyles and Booker, proved effective on the offensive end, where Kentucky registered its highest point-total of the season against a high-major school. Its previous high against serious competition was the 72 it scored against Kansas on Nov. 18 at the Champions Classic.

    Lyles scored nine points on 4-for-6 shooting in 23 minutes, while Booker went for 15 on 5-for-8 shooting and 3-for-3 from 3-point range in 22 minutes. One of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation entering the day, the Wildcats went 7-for-15 from deep. Aside from Booker, Aaron Harrison was 3-for-7 from long-range.

    Ulis struggled from the field, scoring just three points on 1-for-5 shooting, but he also had eight assists against just three turnovers.

    “I love that lineup because Andrew’s a great player, he’s a playmaker and I’m a playmaker as well, so when we’re in together, we just try to get in the lane and make things happen,” Ulis said. “Offensively, it helps us to get in the lane more. He likes to drive and help create and that’s what I do as well, so it opens a lot of different things for us offensively.”

    Meanwhile, Cauley-Stein, a 7-foot-, 240-pound junior who missed the final three games of Kentucky’s 2014 Final Four run with an ankle injury, continues to do nothing but help himself as an NBA prospect.

    Minutes after the final horn, Cauley-Stein was moved from No. 10 to No. 4 on the DraftExpress 2015 NBA Mock Draft.

    His 15 points marked the fifth straight time he has hit double-digits and the seventh overall this season. He turned several well-timed alley-oops into ferocious dunks at various points of the second half to help Kentucky keep the momentum.

    “You’re talking about a junior, you’re talking about a guy that’s played against some of the best players in the country, and he’s coming into his own,” Calipari said. “He’s figuring out who he is as a player, as a person. He’s doing it.”

    Kentucky has just two games over the next two weeks and both are high-profile. The Wildcats will face UCLA next Saturday at the United Center in a game played on CBS. That will lead into the highly-anticipated matchup with the Cardinals at Louisville.

    Follow Josh Newman on Twitter