Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle looked every bit the part of an early NBA lottery pick on Friday night during a thrilling 74-69 upset victory over the Louisville Cardinals.
Randle began slowly, accumulating just two points and adding three turnovers during the first eight minutes of action on Friday night. Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports noted Randle's struggles with this tweet:
Julius Randle has turned it over on his last three touches.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) March 29, 2014
Luckily for Kentucky, that was short-lived.
As Randle heated up, so did the Wildcats.
He began to show a great amount of aggression in the paint, accruing six points and seven rebounds within the next four minutes of play. Just like that, Louisville went from dominating the game to seeing its lead cut in half.
Randle continued his surge throughout the remainder of the first half, as Kentucky pulled within striking distance of the Cardinals. He entered the break shooting 3-of-5 from the field, including making three of four free-throw attempts, for nine points. He also added nine rebounds, priming himself for a double-double performance.
Due to Randle's efforts, the Wildcats found themselves down just 34-31 to Louisville at halftime.
Randle and Co. really had to step it up in the second half after receiving some devastating news over the break. Forward Willie Cauley-Stein would miss the remainder of the game due to an ankle injury, according to a tweet from Kentucky Athletics:
Official word on Willie Cauley-Stein is that he will miss the remainder of the game with a left ankle injury.— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) March 29, 2014
Randle delivered. Within the first five minutes after the break, he accumulated a double-double, scoring 11 points and gaining 11 rebounds as the Wildcats drew even with the Cardinals at 38 points each.
ESPN Stats and Info tweeted a staggering statistic regarding Randle's double-doubles:
Julius Randle has 23 double-doubles this season. Only one freshman has had more in a season -- Michael Beasley (28 in 2008).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2014
One of the biggest factors to this early comeback was Randle's ability to threaten in the paint. He continued to orchestrate fast breaks, driving into the paint in attack mode and dishing out to teammates when double-teamed.
SportsCenter tweeted its delight with the way Randle played up to that point:
Julius Randle came to PLAY. He's got 11 Pts, 11 Reb and the Wildcats have tied it at 38 with under 15 minutes to play.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 29, 2014
Midway through the second half, Randle was pulled briefly from the game. This was heavily visible, as Louisville took advantage, crashing the boards aggressively without Kentucky's best interior threat on the floor and taking a six-point lead.
Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com tweeted his thoughts as to why Randle left the game:
Trainers were rubbing Julius Randle's calves during TO. Wonder if he's cramping up again.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 29, 2014
That wasn't a good sign for the Wildcats, as Randle was seen on the bench yet again with four minutes remaining in the game.
Once Randle found himself on the floor again, he made his presence felt. On his first touch, he drove into the paint, scoring a highly contested layup to get Kentucky back within three points.
Randle's return to the game was greeted by enthusiasm. Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram summed it up nicely in this tweet:
In the waning seconds of the game, it appeared as though Randle secured the win with a huge block. Unfortunately, a bad foul was called and Louisville pulled to within one point after going 1-of-2 at the foul line.
Randle was then fouled on the ensuing inbound and drilled both foul shots without any signs of nerves. That put Kentucky up by three, and after a Cardinals' missed three-pointer, the game was sealed.
Upon the game's conclusion, Randle finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, adding one assist and one steal as well.
Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders summed up Randle's performance with this tweet:
Julius Randle was great down the stretch. He had that perfect pass to Aaron Harrison for the three, clutch free throws, strong defense, etc.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 29, 2014
Thanks in part to Randle, the Wildcats have knocked out the defending champions and move ahead to the Elite Eight.
It will certainly be fun watching him play in the NBA, but Julius Randle has unfinished business in the 2014 NCAA tournament first.
Game Grade: A