Julius Randle and the Kentucky Wildcats continued to shock the nation Sunday, defeating No. 2 Michigan by a score of 75-72 to earn an improbable trip to the Final Four.
Randle entered the game with some lofty expectations after his last double-double performance against Louisville. Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders tweeted Randle's dominance this season:
Julius Randle enters this game with 23 double-doubles, leading all Division I players this season: http://t.co/VhXM0y460L— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 30, 2014
Unfortunately, those lofty expectations didn't start on a high note, as Randle got off to a bit of a slow start against Michigan.
With Willie Cauley-Stein missing the game, the Wildcats depended on Randle and Aaron Harrison to get things done down low. Unfortunately, that didn't happen early in the game, according to a tweet from Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal:
With Cauley-Stein out, Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle being a combined 1 for 9 is a disaster for Kentucky.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 30, 2014
Instead of aggressively attacking the rim as he has done in the past, Randle continued to settle for difficult shots. Jeff Drummond of AllWildcats.com tweeted the unusual behavior:
Julius Randle taking difficult shots when Cats can get anything they want near the rim.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) March 30, 2014
Dan Wolken of Sports Illustrated seconded the notion with this tweet:
Julius Randle does not need to settle for that. Like, ever.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 30, 2014
The Wildcats ended the half on a 15-5 run, thanks to the buzzer-beater by Randle, to tie things up at 37.
March Madness TV tweeted the excitement:
HALFTIME on CBS: TIE GAME! Julius Randle's bucket at the buzzer knots the game at 37. Stauskas leads all scorers with 18 points. #Elite8— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) March 30, 2014
Here's a look at Randle's buzzer-beater courtesy of a tweet from NCAA March Madness:
Randle ended the half going 2-of-7 from the field and connected on both free-throw attempts for six points. He also added four rebounds and one steal. His ball-handling looked much better early on, as he only committed one turnover before the break.
Although, if Randle was to record his 24th double-double of the season, he had some work to do.
Well, it didn't take long for Randle to get closer to that mark and make his presence known in the second half. He gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game with just over 18 minutes remaining after a thundering putback dunk.
Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports tweeted his unique reaction to the slam:
Aww, Julius Randle wants to be just like Marcus Lee.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) March 30, 2014
After a couple more aggressive moves, Randle recorded two additional buckets, equaling his first-half output with 16 minutes remaining in the game.
Randle continued to pour it on in a highly contested second half, featuring back-and-forth scoring between both teams. During this fast-paced action, Randle recorded his 24th double-double of the season with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
ESPN College BBall confirmed the statistic with this tweet:
Julius Randle with his 24th double-double of the season. #MarchMadness— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 30, 2014
Kentucky Athletics' Twitter account expressed its delight with Randle as well:
Another game, another double-double (24 on the year) for Julius Randle. He has 16 points, 10 rebounds, is a man.— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) March 30, 2014
Randle and Co. played some well-rounded basketball down the stretch to hold off Michigan and earn a trip to the Final Four.
He finished the game shooting 7-of-16 from the floor for 16 points and added 11 rebounds, one steal and one block for another stellar performance. Kentucky Athletics tweeted his final stats:
Julius Randle had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Lee came up huge in Willie Cauley-Stein's absence with 10 points.— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) March 30, 2014
This performance from Randle, as well as all of his others during the 2014 NCAA tournament, earned him the Midwest Region's Most Outstanding Player, according to a tweet from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press:
All-Regional team: Julius Randle, Kentucky (MOP) Nik Stauskas, Michigan Marcus Lee, Kentucky Caris LeVert, Michigan Aaron Harrison, Ky— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) March 30, 2014
Kentucky now moves on to face No. 2 Wisconsin in the Final Four for a chance to earn a trip to the coveted finals.
Game Grade: A