The 7-foot sophomore center became only the fourth player in Kentucky history to block at least nine shots in a game, joining Nerlens Noel (12), Andre Riddick (9) and Sam Bowie (9). Twice in his career, Cauley-Stein had rejected seven shots in a game, but never was his impact as strong as it was against the Friars.
"Before, in the past, I was hesitant (about attempting to block shots)," Cauley-Stein said. "Now, I'm just going. Coach said don't even worry about it, just try to go block every ball. That's what my gameplan is coming into the game: go block everything."
In doing so, Cauley-Stein played the key role in the Wildcats holding Providence to 9-for-42 (21 percent) shooting on 2-point field goals to offset the Friars' 10-for-19 shooting from beyond the arc.
"Willie was great," UK head coach John Calipari said. "To have nine blocks in a game like this... Big time. Big time."
"You say, what is Willie doing different? He's playing harder, longer. He's never played this many minutes, and he's never played that hard this many minutes, but he's practicing that way. He's pushing himself through comfort levels. And that's what I'm trying to get all these guys to do."
Third-ranked Kentucky (7-1) also got 18 points from James Young, 15 points from Aaron Harrison and 12 points and eight rebounds from Julius Randle, who saw his double-double streak to open the season end tied with Jim Andrews for the school record at seven games.
The Wildcats had one of their best shooting nights of the young season, hitting 27 of 42 field goals (64.3 percent), six of eight from 3-point range and 19 of 25 at the free throw line.
"We didn't shoot as many 3s," Calipari said of the winning formula. "... (Assistant coach) Kenny Payne has been all over me because I keep saying this is the best post-up team I've ever coached, so he said 'Well, jam it in versus zone. Quit doing all this fancy stuff; just throw it in there. That's what we've been working on and why we shot such a high percentage.
"We made a step up today. This was a good step, and we needed to. There were still plays where we got up 10 or 11 and it should have been 18, but all the sudden you turn around, and it's four. That's what freshmen do. But I was pleased overall."
Providence (7-2) got 23 points from senior guard Bryce Cotton, who hit five of nine from 3-point range. Josh Fortune and Tyler Harris each added 10 for the Friars.
The Cats led 39-35 at halftime before gradually pulling away in the second half. Cauley-Stein had six points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in an 8-0 run that opened up some breathing room for his team. The lead peaked at 18 with 1:01 to play as UK continued to work its way to to the free throw line down the stretch.
"I loved how we ended the game today," Calipari said. "We ground it out like a team that's been doing it for two years... I was so proud of them how they finished those last four minutes. We've got a chance."
The Cats outrebounded the Friars 35-30. They have outrebounded all eight opponents this season.
Kentucky returns to action Friday, Dec. 6, in Arlington, Texas. The UK men's and women's squads will play a doubleheader vs. Baylor in AT&T Stadium.