Befitting what was an ugly 56-49 win for the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats, Julius Randle bullied his way to a double-double against the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats.
The freshman phenom finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, giving him his 21st double-double of the season, which is a freshman record at Kentucky, per UK Athletics. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were the previous record-holders:
Randle stepping up was huge for the Wildcats, as James Young and Andrew Harrison were a combined 4-of-19 from the field for 14 points. Harrison was struggling with a sore right elbow. He had an ice pack on it right after the game, per Rick Bozich of WDRB in Louisville:
Like Kentucky as a whole in the first half, Randle looked stuck in a funk. He made only two of his six field-goal attempts, scoring six points and grabbing six boards. That fed into the team performance, as the Wildcats missed 18 of their first-half field-goals but were winning the rebounding battle 22-16. It's a good thing they don't dock points for a lack of style.
Despite being one of the few shining lights for UK, Randle was hearing it from head coach John Calipari, per Brett Dawson Rivals.com:
Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde was also less than enthused with what he saw from the Kentucky star:
Likely after getting a stern halftime talk from his coach, Randle came out a different player in the second half. He was much more assertive down low and asserted his authority on the offensive end. Without his scoring in the paint, Kentucky may not have been able to keep Kansas State at bay, per Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal:
Randle scored nine of the Wildcats' final 12 points to end the game. With KSU still hanging around, it was the freshman forward who was UK's only consistent offensive presence.
Dawson commented that he returned to the early season form that made him look like a potential top-three pick in the 2014 NBA draft:
Looking ahead, NBA scout Martin Knezevic thinks Randle could transform into a Zach Randolph-type player:
Kentucky's win sets up a matchup with No. 1 Wichita State in the third round. This is a great battle between one team that represents the old guard (the Wildcats) and another who represents the mid-majors looking to be discussed in the same breath as the elite in college basketball (the Shockers).
There's also the storyline of Wichita State being undefeated and Kentucky being the team some thought might be undefeated at this stage.
From a personnel perspective, Randle might have his hands full with Chadrack Lufile, per Thomas Beisner of Kentucky Sports Television:
Randle called the game a "great challenge":
All in all, this was neither a banner performance for Kentucky nor Randle. He struggled early on, which helped drag the team down with him. The second half was much better. If Randle played that way over both halves, he'd be looking at the A, possibly A+ range.
Instead, it's a C+ for the first and an A for the second.
Final Grade: B+
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