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In Randle's absence, UK guards answer challenge

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Andrew Harrison had a career-high 18 points in UK's win over Louisville on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletic Andrew Harrison had a career-high 18 points in UK's win over Louisville on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletic
Given the way he played in the first half, the circumstances seemed fairly dire when it became clear Julius Randle wouldn't be able to finish his first game against Louisville.

Randle looked like the best player on the floor in the opening 20 minutes. Behind the star forward, UK took a 41-36 halftime lead and appeared on the way to the resume- and confidence-building win it so badly needed.

Then Randle started to hobble around. Coping with cramps, he went back to the locker room. Knowing Randle's importance, his coach encouraged UK's medical staff to be aggressive in treatment.

"They gave him like three bags of IV and the doc was squeezing it in to try to get him in, because I was saying, 'Get him back,' " Calipari said.

Randle, however, had exerted too much energy in that first half. Twice he checked back in, but neither time Randle could stay on the floor for any more than 64 seconds. When he came out for the final time with 11:01 left, UK had seen its lead disappear and trailed 52-51.

The Wildcats would have to finish the job without their leading scorer and rebounder.

"It always hurts you when you lose a great player," Andrew Harrison said. "At the same, we all knew we had to bring it. That just means we all had to step it up a little bit."

The formula that No. 18 UK had used to build a lead on No. 6/4 Louisville would have to change. No longer could the Cats throw the ball to Randle -- who needed just eight shots to score 17 first-half points -- and let him go to work.

"The guards had to step up a little more," James Young said. "We tried to drive the hole as much as we could. Coach told us to penetrate a little more and that's what we did."

Young and the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, all played at least 15 minutes in the second half. Carrying the offensive load, they combined to score all but five of UK's points after halftime. The perimeter trio wasn't about to let this opportunity slip by.

"We wanted to win this," said Young, who had his first-career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "This was a big game for us. ... So we just wanted to come out and prove to everybody that we're a good team and we're starting to mature a little bit."

Consider that point proven.

With a combination of lockdown defense and timely baskets, UK (10-3) outscored visiting Louisville (11-2) 22-14 without Randle. With a season-high crowd of 24,396 loudly behind them from tip to buzzer, the Cats took down the Cardinals for the fifth time in six games with Coach Cal at the helm, 73-66.

"I feel like we took some punches with Julius going down and stuff," Andrew Harrison said. "It just showed our resilience and that we can do anything."

During that game-ending run, Young and the Harrisons scored all but two of UK's points. The only exception was a dunk by Alex Poythress with 1:44 left that gave the Cats a relatively secure 71-61 lead.

Delivering the perfect wrap-around pass off of a drive to set it up was Andrew Harrison.

"How about the pass he makes to Alex?" Calipari said. "He could have tried to shoot that."

 In the not-so-distant past, the freshman point guard very well may have tried to do just that.

In fact, Andrew Harrison had one of his more forgettable college games just a week ago. He scored seven points in 20 foul-hampered minutes against Belmont and his backup, Jarrod Polson, was the story after he helped ignite a comeback with his energy.

There would be no repeat, as Andrew Harrison went toe to toe with one of the best backcourts in the country. Facing Russ Smith and Chris Jones, Andrew Harrison had a career-high 18 points.

"They're great players, Jones and Russ Smith. Smith is so quick, and Jones is too," Andrew Harrison said. "It wasn't a personal challenge. I just tried to win it for my team."

Harrison steadied the UK offense throughout against Louisville's swarming pressure, committing just three turnovers even though the ball was in his hands for much of his 34 minutes. As a team, Kentucky committed just 11 turnovers and forced 13 against the team that entered Saturday with the nation's top turnover margin.

"He grew up a lot," Poythress said. "I'm proud of Andrew, stepping up to the plate and making big plays down the stretch."

After that Belmont game, Calipari restated that his goal is for Andrew Harrison to become the nation's top point guard. The road is long, but this was a step in the right direction.

"He didn't want to lose this game like we said in the beginning," Young said. "This was a really big game for him and he stepped up. He had Russ guarding him, which is a good defender, and he knew he had to step up his game and that's what he did."

With their point guard leading the way and Randle returning to his regular form for a full game, the Cats believe a lot more in store.

"It's just us starting to come together as a team, being more mature," Young said. "You're going to see it a lot more now. We're becoming closer as a team and as a family."

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I am the happiest liar in town. I thought the Cards would put it on the Kats! Kentucky played "Kentucky Basketball" throughout the game and kept Louisville in check! I am so proud of the Boyz in Blue!

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  • TEXIZZ: I am the happiest liar in town. I thought the Cards would put it on the Kats! Kentucky played "Kentucky read more