NEW YORK (AP) — Willie Cauley-Stein didn't look like the old man of the Kentucky basketball team.
The 7-foot sophomore who plays with all those high-profile freshmen blocked consecutive shots by Providence's Kadeem Batts and then took off down court and completed the fast break with an emphatic dunk.
"I was extremely hyped," he said with a small smile. "That was a good feeling."
He had a lot of good feelings Sunday night as he flirted with a triple-double in leading the third-ranked Wildcats to a 79-65 victory over Providence at Barclays Center.
"He's playing harder. He's playing longer," Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Cauley-Stein after he scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked a career-high nine shots in 36 minutes. "He's never played this many minutes and he's never played this hard."
James Young scored 18 points and Aaron Harrison added 15 for the Wildcats (7-1), who shot 64.3 percent from the field (27 of 42) and led by as many as 17 points in the second half.
Cauley-Stein had seven blocks in the Wildcats' last game against Eastern Michigan and he now has 31 for the season.
"The last couple games it's been pretty good," Cauley-Stein said. "I think I'm just more aware. Before I was hesitant on going after the ball. Now I'm going. Coach said, 'Don't worry about it, just go block every ball.'"
Bryce Cotton had 23 points for the Friars (7-2), who finished 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from 3-point range. They came into the game shooting just 29.4 percent from beyond the arc and were averaging only five 3s per game.
"We were trying to play inside out," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "I thought our guys got frustrated trying to shoot over their length. Their depth at the rim is what makes them. When those guys mature they can be really, really scary."
Kentucky, which had the majority of the crowd of 8,086 cheering for it, also had an exceptional game from 3-point range. The Wildcats were 6 of 8 from beyond the arc, decidedly better than the 28.9 percent they were shooting from there entering the game.
But Calipari said the 3s were a factor in another way.
"We didn't shoot as many 3s so we could throw it in against their zone. That's what we've been working on and why we shot such a high percentage."
Julius Randle, the highest profile of the eight-man freshman class at Kentucky, scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He had a double-double in each of his seven games this season tying Jim Andrews in 1971-72 for the most by a Kentucky player at the start of a season. That streak is over.
"I still think Julius is getting roughed up a little bit," Calipari said of the 6-9, 250-pound Randle, "but he's so physical they just say he's not getting fouled."
The Wildcats finished with 11 blocks with Cauley-Stein doing most of the rejecting. Providence continued to go inside but the bigger Wildcats made it a rough trip and the Friars kept firing from long range.
Harrison was 7 of 9 from the field and Young was 5 of 7 including going 3 of 4 from 3-point range for the Wildcats, whose only loss was as the No. 1 team in the nation to Michigan State, which moved up one spot to the top with the win.
"We are really communicating. We're just communicating with each other," Young said of the difference in the team from the loss to now. "That's what's going to happen in the long run."
Calipari said he has had to get back to basics with this young team including doing junior high drills such as lane slides and wall sits.
"We're doing eighth grade stuff. So what? It's where we are," he said. "I went way too fast early."
This game started a December that will have the Wildcats face No. 18 Baylor, No. 16 North Carolina and No. 9 Louisville in addition to Boise State and Belmont.
"We're doing it with all freshmen. I haven't done this before," he said before again addressing the rumors of him possibly leaving for an NBA job.
"It took me 20 years to get a job like Kentucky,'" he said. "I don't know how long I can stay in this seat and live — I'll be honest about that. But right now I'm having fun doing it.
"This is a unique place. I'm going to run it out and have some fun with it."
Providence was without sophomore guard Kris Dunn who missed his second straight game with a right shoulder injury. No timetable has been set for his return. The Friars, whose only loss this season was to Maryland in the championship game of the Paradise Jam, are also missing freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, who were suspended indefinitely before the season started for "not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes."
"Not having Kris Dunn really hurt us. Not having our freshmen and the depth they would give us at those positions really hurt us," Cooley said. "But I'm going to coach the guys on my bus. ... Dunn is in a lot of pain. I don't expect him back any time soon and that's a big blow. I will hold those freshmen responsible for their actions and we will hold them to that until they understand that."
This was the second meeting between the schools and the first was played across the East River. Kentucky beat Providence 79-78 in the 1976 NIT at Madison Square Garden.