The No. 18 Kentucky Wildcats hosted the Ole Miss Rebels Tuesday in a battle between two teams with 6-2 records in the SEC.
Looking to keep pace with the Florida Gators, who now sit atop the conference with a 9-0 record, UK needed to defend its home court against the hot-shooting Rebels, who are led by senior guard Marshall Henderson.
Having won five of its past six games, Ole Miss came into Rupp Arena with the confidence that it could get a signature win at the expense of the 'Cats.
UK ensured that wouldn't happen, as it ran the Rebels out of the building en route to an 80-64 victory.
Here are three takeaways from the game and how they affect UK going forward.
Freshman forward James Young can carry the 'Cats one game, only to badly damage their chances of winning in the next one.
His offense is very reliant on three-point shooting, and prior to facing Ole Miss, Young had made 16 of his previous 37 three-point attempts.
Against the Rebels, however, he went 0-of-5 from beyond the arc and scored just 10 points—five fewer than his season average. This can actually be viewed as a positive due to the fact that UK won a game convincingly against a quality opponent without Young having to carry the scoring load.
The 'Cats are slowly becoming capable of overcoming poor performances by their top scorers in Young and fellow freshman forward Julius Randle.
Reemergence of Randle
Speaking of Randle, the big man had another productive game and is becoming more engaged in the offense after a short slump in January.
In the three games prior to Saturday's contest against Missouri, Randle averaged just 11 points and was averaging a mere eight field-goal attempts over the past nine games.
Against the Tigers, Randle scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go with nine rebounds. He even dished out five assists and looked more comfortable in the post when he got the ball.
Randle followed that performance up with 12 points against the Rebels. While the box score only reads 2-of-6 on field-goal attempts, he remained aggressive in the paint and was fouled on five shooting attempts, going 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
In other words, Randle really had 11 field-goal attempts, which is about the number of shots a 53 percent shooter needs to be getting per game.
Randle is slowly learning how to be an effective scorer in the post, and if he continues to steadily improve, he'll be one of the hardest players to stop in the NCAA tournament.
UK is averaging 12 turnovers per game this season, but Stat Sheet indicates that the team has reduced that number to just 10.7 turnovers a night over the past six games.
With four freshmen starting (Young, Randle, Aaron and Andrew Harrison), turnovers have been an issue for the duration of the year. However, these youngsters are slowly learning the importance of taking care of the ball. Slowly but surely, they are becoming more efficient on the offensive end because of it.
The Wildcats have now scored at least 79 points in four straight games and part of that has to do with better passing as well as not killing offensive possessions with turnovers.
At the end of the day, there is still some work to be done with these 'Cats, but they are making the necessary improvements to eventually become a team capable of making a run in the NCAA tournament.
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