Julius Randle struggled through injuries to have a solid effort to help Kentucky advance past Wisconsin and into the national championship game.
His team barely got by the Badgers with a 74-73 win thanks to a late three-point shot by Aaron Harrison. However, Randle was also a key contributor with 16 points and five rebounds in the win.
Here is a look at highlights from the exciting game:
The big man got off to a slow start in the Final Four, and Kentucky appeared to be in trouble because of it. He needed over nine minutes to score his first basket of the game and had only two points with four minutes remaining in the first half.
Wisconsin took advantage and built up the lead to 34-25 at this point, appearing ready to pull away.
Of course, the biggest concern was not just Randle's ineffectiveness, but also an injury to his ankle. Sports Illustrated first noticed the problem:
Kentucky forward Julius Randle is limping on the sideline. Wildcats will need his presence inside.— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) April 6, 2014
The freshman actually took a walk into the locker room, but was quickly able to return to the bench. He then relayed a message to sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson that he was alright:
Julius Randle came off the floor and said “I just rolled it” per @tracywolfson— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) April 6, 2014
After a few minutes, Randle got back on the court and got back to his usual dominant self. This started with an and-1 dunk heading into the under-four-minute timeout. David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest noted that this fired him up:
First real emotion we've seen from Randle tonight after the three-point play. Frustrated for sure, at his own ineffectiveness/gimpiness.— David Ubben (@davidubben) April 6, 2014
He followed this up with two more impressive buckets to finish the first half with nine points, cutting the score to 40-36 in favor of Wisconsin at halftime.
At this point, a few college basketball analysts could not help but be impressed with the performance of Randle:
Straight up love the intensity Julius Randle plays with. #Beast— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) April 6, 2014
It’s been a joy to watch Julius Randle play college basketball. Lived up to the hype.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) April 6, 2014
In the second half, many people were hoping to see the forward take over, like ESPN's Skip Bayless:
In the second half, this game should belong to Julius Randle.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 6, 2014
Although he was not his usual dominant self, he managed seven points on a few big plays. Meanwhile, his teammates picked up the rest of the slack to help secure the win.
Mike Greenberg of ESPN was certainly impressed with the effort:
I'm no scout, but of all the freshman I have watched this year the one I would draft first is Julius Randle. #Kentucky— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) April 6, 2014
The Wildcats will now advance to face Connecticut in a surprising battle between No. 7 and No. 8 seeds. With the way the Wildcats are playing lately, there is little doubt they have a chance to come through with a victory.
The national championship game will also give Randle one more chance to prove himself to scouts before likely entering the 2014 NBA draft.
Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv noted how well the forward has performed throughout the tournament:
"I think Julius Randle has helped himself probably more than anybody else in the draft." veteran NBA scout— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 1, 2014
Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports also agreed with Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Randle will be a safe pick this summer:
Based on what he showed all season long and in the most recent game against Wisconsin, chances are that he will be selected early in the first round.
Final Grade: A-
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