Undefeated through 30 games and ranked No. 1 in the country from the beginning of the season, the Kentucky men’s basketball team has semifinalists on the lists for both the Naismith Trophy Men’s College Player of the Year and the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year.
Junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein is one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy award, while John Calipari is one of 15 finalists for the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year.
Cauley-Stein, already a finalist for the United States Writers Basketball Association’s Oscar Robertson Trophy and the John R. Wooden Award, is averaging 8.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the 30-0 Wildcats. The Olathe, Kan., native has recorded 12 double-figure scoring games this season, including a 21-point, 12-rebound performance against then-No. 6 Texas in December.
The 7-footer leads the team in steals with 42 and has swatted 49 shots, second best on the team. He also leads the Wildcats in scoring (11.5) and rebounds (8.2) in UK’s six games vs. ranked opponents.
Cauley-Stein is the first player in program history to amass 200 or more career blocks and 100 or more career steals, having achieved the feat earlier this season. He’s also one of just eight players in program history with 500 or more rebounds, 100 or more blocks, and 75 or more steals.
Named in honor of Dr. James Naismith, creator of the game of basketball, the first Naismith Trophy was awarded to UCLA’s Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, in 1969. Anthony Davis became UK’s first winner of the award in 2012 after guiding the Cats to their eighth national title. Other winners include Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Marcus Camby, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan.
Each year, the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Board of Selectors chooses 50 preseason candidates for the Naismith Trophy as well as the midseason team of 30 candidates. The Naismith voting academy narrowed that group down to 10 semifinalists on March 6, will name four finalists on March 22 and announce the winner during Final Four weekend on April 5. The voting academy, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country, bases its criteria on player performance throughout the season.
Calipari is up for the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year for one of his finest seasons in a long and decorated career. The sixth-year UK head coach has the storied Kentucky program off to the best start in school history and the best start ever by a Southeastern Conference team at 30-0. The 30 straight wins comprises the second-longest overall winning streak in Kentucky history and the longest such streak for a Calipari-coached team.
Under Calipari’s guidance, UK leads the nation in scoring margin (plus-21.4) and field-goal percentage defense (.349), holding 18 of its 30 opponents to 55 points or less, the most in school history during the shot-clock era (1985-86 season).
Calipari, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finalist, has already reached 30 wins this season, the ninth time in his career he’s achieved that feat and the third time at UK.
Calipari was named Naismith National Coach of the Year in 1996 while at UMass and 2008 at Memphis.
The Wildcats will try to become the first team from the five major conferences to finish the regular season undefeated since Indiana in 1975-76 when they host Florida on Saturday at Rupp Arena. That game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. ET tip on CBS. UK will honor its three seniors, Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone, prior to the game.