Cats seek to get Randle back in groove

With Kentucky seeking answers after dropping to 0-3 against ranked opponents, Kenny Payne says the Wildcats' focus this week is helping freshman forward Julius Randle recapture his mojo.

With Kentucky seeking answers after dropping to 0-3 against ranked opponents, Kenny Payne says the Wildcats' focus this week is helping freshman forward Julius Randle recapture his mojo.

Filling in for John Calipari during Monday night's weekly radio call-in show, the UK assistant coach said Randle needs to bounce back strong from his 11-point, five-rebound effort in an 82-77 loss Saturday at North Carolina. The talented Texas product went 3-for-9 from the field, committed four turnovers and watched as lesser-touted Tar Heel forward James Michael McAdoo dominated the matchup with 20 points.

UK assistant coach Kenny Payne instructs Andrew Harrison from the bench. ( Photo by Jeff Drummond.)
"We can sugarcoat it, but at the end of the day (McAdoo's) impact on their team compared to Julius's impact on our team, that was the difference," Payne said. "And Julius knows. We've addressed it, and he accepts his responsibility for that."

Randle, who opened the season tying a school record with seven consecutive double-doubles to begin the year, has only one in his last four games. He's shooting 47 percent during that stretch and has turned the ball over 12 times, which in turn has affected his focus on the defensive end of the floor. Foul trouble plagued him at Chapel Hill.

"Coaches are saying, Julius Randle, you're not going to beat us," Payne said. "So when he catches it on the perimeter, four guys are sitting in the lane. When he catches it on the block, unless he's going quick (he) tries to size his man up, they're going to double- and triple-team him. Those are adjustments that he's got to get used to and learn from and how to take advantage of it."

The UK staff has been trying to find ways to get the ball in the hands of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randle in a better position to take advantage of his skills. Some observers have pointed to the Wildcats' inconsistent post-entry passing as a reason why Randle has slowed down on the offensive end of the floor, but Payne rejected that notion.

"It starts with Randle doing his job to fight to get open as opposed to the perimeter guys passing it," he said. "It's a two-fold thing there. Julius has to fight to get low-post position, and then we need to make sure we get him the ball in the spots he needs to catch it in. We work on it every day, and we'll continue to work on it. As we get more games under our belt and more practices under our belt, you'll see it improve."

If Randle posts up harder and makes quicker decisions, Payne said, it should only free up teammates like James Young and Aaron Harrison to make more plays on the perimeter. "He's got to allow his teammates to hurt (the opponent). Once we do that, maybe it will loosen things up."

But the coach's biggest solution for getting Randle back in an offensive groove actually begins on the other side of the court.

"The defensive toughness, possession by possession, we have to dominate that end of the floor so that Julius isn't fighting what he's fighting," Payne said. "By a team like North Carolina shooting 50 percent from the field, that means the ball is going in the hole, they're getting set back on defense, and now we're fighting a half-court defense. That's not what we're about.

"The teams that succeed defend it as hard as they can every possession, they get the rebound, they fly up the court and put the other team on their heels. Until we do that, we're going to be up and down. We have to consistently lock people up and fly up the court."

No. 19 Kentucky (8-3) returns to action Saturday against Belmont, which made headlines earlier this season by defeating North Carolina 83-80 in Chapel Hill. The Wildcats are in the midst of finals week, so they haven't spent much time on the Bruins yet.

"Belmont is a very good team," Payne said. "We have not watched any film of them yet. But it's not about Belmont. We know they're good, and they beat (North) Carolina. It's about Kentucky. We have to get ready to prepare for the way we need to play."

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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