Kentucky Wildcats freshman forward Julius Randle didn't press when things weren't going his way early in Sunday's third-round NCAA tournament game against Wichita State. That precocious patience paid off, as Randle surged in the second half in making momentous plays and helping the Midwest's eighth seed knock off the undefeated No. 1 Shockers, 78-76.
Randle couldn't have played much better in responding to the adversity that beset him in the first 20 minutes, posting a final stat line of 13 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, one steal and a huge block. He scored two points on just 1-of-4 shooting entering the intermission, yet did have four rebounds and four assists in that span.
Instead of shrinking from the spotlight and a six-point halftime deficit, Kentucky came out of the locker room with fury and aggression, with Randle serving as the tone-setter. Randle wasted little time in matching his first-half point total, getting a huge put-back dunk less than a minute into the half:
ESPN's Jeff Goodman took note of how Randle began to bring the pain after being a little more passive in the first half:
Julius Randle playing like a man coming out of the break. Needs to take over this game in the paint.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 23, 2014
Wichita State's length and overall athleticism in the frontcourt bothered Randle in the early part of the game, but the sign of a great, developing player is impacting the action in other areas.
Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com implied that this game was a big step in Randle's individual development in that he worked on his shortcomings:
Julius Randle passing well today, finishing with right hand. You want to see freshman improving on their weaknesses as the season moves on.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 23, 2014
With his side trailing, something had to change. Randle took matters into his own hands and became a force on the inside. What stands out about Randle is that he's so athletic and has guard-like dribbling on the perimeter. CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel commented on the incredible combination of skills:
Julius Randle, what did we tell you about being that big AND that quick?— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) March 23, 2014
Using that as context, CBS Sports Network analyst Wally Szczerbiak compared Randle to Memphis Grizzlies big man Zach Randolph, which is certainly high praise:
That makes a lot of sense, because in addition to the finesse Randle has, he is also a physical force who can crash the boards. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports was wowed by how strong Randle was being against the Shockers' formidable defenders:
Julius Randle is tossing bodies around like a pass rusher. Incredible strength.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 23, 2014
As great as Randle was in his own right, Kentucky won this game because of how well it played across the board. Twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison had 19 and 20 points respectively, while James Young matched Randle's total of 13.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated commended Randle but also complimented some of the other Wildcats' first-year sensations:
Kentucky's top NBA prospects (Randle, Young, Andrew Harrison) finally playing like them. Took a while, but you can see the scary talent.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) March 23, 2014
Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears wondered whether Randle could galvanize Kentucky to a national championship the way Carmelo Anthony did once upon a time at Syracuse:
The Wildcats are flat-out scary, and it's because they've finally bought in as a team, improved their chemistry and are now going to be as dangerous as anyone in the Midwest region moving forward. A date with the reigning national champion Louisville Cardinals awaits in the Sweet 16, which should prove to be a heated battle between bitter rivals.
That won't be an easy test, but Kentucky did just beat a team that went an NCAA-record 35-0 before falling in the round of 32. Randle was a big reason that the momentum shifted and why the Wildcats were able to claw their way back.
The lack of scoring in the first half is all that can bring Randle's overall grade down from the highest possible mark. Because of the tangible production he put forth on the court along with the intangible passion he brought after halftime, Randle can't garner anything less than an "A" for his performance versus Wichita State.
Final Grade: A