Welcome to what the locals call UK2K (in honor of the program's 2,000th victory earlier this season). At UK2K, you can have a season and an impact like DeMarcus Cousins and still be eclipsed by not only a teammate, but another freshman teammate. Still, in recent weeks, Cousins' name is being mentioned in the same breath as John Wall's, at least in terms of influence on the success of the Wildcats -- and, at most, as a candidate with Wall for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Amazingly, after all the highlights Wall has generated from Day 1 in the program, he leads the Wildcats in scoring over Cousins by all of 16.7 points per game to 16.4.
It also helps that coach John Calipari, who casts quite a shadow himself, keeps mentioning that among the items his young team needs to check off every night, near the top is "Get Cousins the ball more.'' He said it after Kentucky's latest win, 66-51 over Alabama Tuesday, and it will be a priority again Saturday night when the Wildcats face 12th-ranked Tennessee at Rupp Arena.
"Is there any secret that we have to play DeMarcus Cousins?'' Calipari told reporters after the Alabama game, taking note that Tide coach Anthony Grant had been surprised that Cousins was even bigger and stronger in person than he was on film. "That's not a secret. We have to play him. He's a beast.''
It does seem fairly obvious that a 6-foot-11, 260-pounder who has strung together 15 games of double-figure points and rebounds, including the last seven (the longest streak by a Kentucky player in 37 years) needs to be on the floor and to get the ball. Yet on Tuesday, Cousins managed 16 points and 13 rebounds ... while playing 31 minutes and taking all of eight shots. Oddly, and noticeably, he went an agonizing (at least to Calipari) eight minutes on the floor in the first half without a shot, during which Kentucky was completely unable to shake free of an Alabama team hanging around .500 all season and well below in conference play.
His numbers don't lie: Cousins is averaging 16.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 21.7 minutes. In the current run of double-doubles, the key numbers are 19.0 points and 12.4 rebounds on 55.1 percent shooting, but twice in that run he has taken fewer than 10 shots and is averaging just 11 per game.
The reasons go beyond the dominance of the ball by Wall, who has deservedly earned much of the spotlight this year, even though Cousins and others have stepped up to perform lately while Wall has cooled, and has tussled with Calipari. The coach has been trying to blend others into the frontcourt rotation, such as Daniel Orton, whose minutes and production are rising.
And that brings the topic around to the aforementioned preseason first-team all-American, 6-9 Patrick Patterson, the signature player returning from a Billy Gillispie era most in bluegrass country are trying to forget. Patterson's claim to the preseason honor was legit, and Calipari has, in fact, leaned hard on him all season to raise his game to its expected level. Like Cousins, Patterson has started every game, and he is averaging 10 more minutes per game.
But he has receded into the freshman's shadow, and neither he nor his coach are certain why. Patterson's numbers are 14.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, notably off from the previous season (17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds per game); his last game with double figures in points and rebounds was before Christmas, against Long Beach State. During that same seven-game run in which Cousins has excelled, Patterson is averaging 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds and shooting 44 percent -- more shots at less production.
After the Alabama game, Patterson played down what it's now hard to deny is a reduced role, one that he might have to share more as Orton earns more time. "I do not mind it. I am fine with it,'' he told reporters. "Coach Calipari has been talking about that all year. He has told me I have to find ways to get them playing time together. So far whenever they have been in the game at the same time they have played well and fed off of each other's energy. I am perfectly fine with them both getting more minutes, even if they are my minutes."
The problem is, Calipari wants Patterson to claim those minutes, even as the coach keeps steering the progress of the two youngsters. Recently, he rattled off a long list of particulars he wants to see from Patterson -- most centered around being more aggressive at both ends and around every ball in his vicinity. "I want him to be the athlete that he is. I want him to demand the ball, even from the huddle,'' Calipari said. "Part of the reason I am working with him is because I want him to know how much confidence I have in him ... There is nothing here holding him back.''
Yet Cousins' development has complicated things, as even Calipari has acknowledged: "I have never had a player come this far this fast.''It is far from an agonizing problem to have. Kentucky is hardly coasting in the SEC, and the schedule is unforgiving the rest of the way -- the Wildcats also get Tennessee again on the road, as well as Vanderbilt and Mississippi State away from home and Florida in Rupp for the season finale.
To have another freshman sensation and another frontcourt "beast'' rolled into one might make life less streamlined for Calipari, but at 23-1, he and the program can live with it.