Wildcats show they're becoming a team

Kentucky may have gotten exactly what the doctor ordered on Saturday against Louisville: a team win that showed the Wildcats can thrive against a strong opponent even without one of their best players.

After reaching double digits in the scoring column 12 consecutive times to begin his college career, Julius Randle would certainly command the lion's share of attention from Louisville in Saturday's game at Rupp Arena.

Not surprisingly, Randle was able to rise to the occasion. The 6-foot-9 forward from Texas rushed out to 17 first-half points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field and looked like an unstoppable matchup for the Cardinals.

What Rick Pitino and Louisville couldn't do, though, Randle's own legs accomplished. Severe cramps knocked the Wildcats' star out of all but four minutes in the second half, leaving many to think UK's chances of winning the rivalry game were also benched.

Kentucky, however, wasn't ready to follow that script.

"I didn't even recognize he wasn't there," John Calipari would claim after the game.

Nobody was buying that, especially when the UK boss later admitted he wanted the team's training staff to squeeze three IVs as quickly as possible into Randle's aching body.

But Calipari then added something that did make sense: "I just coached the game. We have enough guys."

Kentucky, indeed, had enough guys. The Wildcats held off the defending national champions for a 73-66 win in a game that could be a major turning point for a team looking to come into its own.

With Randle sidelined, UK got a big lift from sophomore forward Alex Poythress off the bench. He scored a modest seven points and grabbed five rebounds, but Calipari said Poythress's contributions went well beyond the stats most fans pay attention to, as evidenced by UK's remarkable plus-20 margin during the 21 minutes he was on the floor.

"When he was in the game, he gave us one more defender, he gave us one more rebounder, he gave us one more guy who could switch on pick-and-rolls," Calipari said. "And he was fighting them around the goal, so they were not getting any easy baskets… He's playing within himself."

While Poythress did the little things, UK's backcourt carried the bulk of the scoring load in the second half. James Young recorded his first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He also dished out four assists and played strong perimeter defense (UofL was only 6 of 26 from 3-point range) on his way to game MVP honors. Andrew Harrison poured in 18 points, as he was able to weather the intense pressure of the Louisville defense.

"Andrew played incredible today down the stretch," Poythress said. "That is definitely what we need from our point guard."

Aaron Harrison, held scoreless in the first half, made a big impact in the second half with 10 points, including some clutch plays when they mattered the most.

And Willie Cauley-Stein, while not a major factor on the offensive end of the floor, filled his role nicely with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. His presence was a big factor in Louisville shooting under 40 percent on the day, a figure that makes the Cats almost unbeatable under Calipari.

And all without Randle. The way UK pulled out this win may have been just what the doctor ordered for a young team trying to find its way.

"Today we improved on toughness and playing as a team, everyone getting the ball and contributing to the win," Andrew Harrison said. "We never got down on ourselves and really showed heart. We knew we had to bring it to win this game and we did."

AllWildcats Top Stories