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Cats upset by outcome, not effort in buzzer-beating loss

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Julius Randle had 20 points and 14 rebounds in UK's 87-85 loss at Arkansas on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Randle had 20 points and 14 rebounds in UK's 87-85 loss at Arkansas on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If ever there were a time for a young team to fall victim to finger-pointing, this was it.

Kentucky had just fallen in a fashion that will land the Wildcats on the unhappy end of what could be the play of the college basketball season. When Michael Qualls' thunderous put-back dunk went through the net, it undid 44:59.8 of tough road work and sent the Cats to a heartbreaking 87-85 defeat.

Fielding questions from reporters when he surely would have preferred to be on the team bus with his headphones on, James Young tried to take the blame for missing the box-out assignment of Rashad Madden's missed 3-pointer.

"It was just my fault," Young said. "I stopped playing at the last second. I thought it was just going to bounce off, the time was going to run out. I just stopped playing at the last second."

Answering a follow-up, Young started to say he never saw the athletic Qualls coming to make a play few could have. Julius Randle could have sat quietly and let his teammate fall on his sword. Instead, he interjected. The only fingers the Cats would be pointing on this late night in Fayetteville, Ark., would be at themselves.

"It's my fault," Randle said. "It's a team effort. That play is not what won the game. I saw the whole thing and I could have rebounded out of position too. If one person messes up, we've got to have each other's back. That's what we got to get to."

For all the work UK has to reach its still-vast potential, that simple exchange is proof the Cats are moving in the right direction.

So too was most of what happened on Tuesday.

Facing a hungry Arkansas (12-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) team desperate for win after back-to-back losses in front of its raucous home fans, the No. 13/12 Cats (12-4, 2-1 SEC) never wilted when they had every chance to do just that.

"I'm proud of my team that they didn't quit, they kept playing," John Calipari said.

In the first half, Arkansas seemed poised to take control following a bizarre exchange during which the Razorbacks made 4-of-4 free throws and UK missed 3 of 4 without a second running off the clock. Mardracus Wade then drilled a 3-pointer and Arkansas suddenly had a 37-28 lead.

But there was Young, scoring eight points in less than three minutes of a 10-0 run to put UK back in the lead. All told, Young scored 14 of his game-high 23 points in the first half while Willie Cauley-Stein, Randle and Aaron Harrison battled foul trouble.

Randle returned with a vengeance in the second half.

He carried his team for long stretches, showing no signs of the cramps that have bothered him on multiple occasions this season even though he was playing in a game that featured 60 fouls between the two teams.

"Julius, it's why he gets cramps because he gets whacked so much," Calipari said. "It's hard. He's sumo wrestling and running. It's hard. It's a new sport. He'd be a gold medalist in that sport."

He had 12 points and eight rebounds in the second half and overtime to finish with 20 points and 14 boards, Randle's 10th double-double of his freshman season.

His tireless effort positioned UK for a heart-stopping finish. Arkansas' Alandise Harris converted an and-one when Willie Cauley-Stein fouled out on a block at the basket, giving the Razorbacks a 74-71 lead with less than 10 seconds to play.

After Coach Cal elected not to use a timeout, Young passed out of a double team to Andrew Harrison. Even though the freshman point guard had missed all seven of his field-goal attempts to that point, he calmly drained a 3-pointer to force overtime.

Following a back-and-forth start to the extra period, Arkansas once again surged ahead. Qualls drained a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left, meaning UK would once again need a 3 to tie.

Young's first attempt went long, but Alex Poythress, continuing his emergence with 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks, made a crucial play.

"He made the effort play that saved the ball that got us the 3 at the end and tied up the game," Calipari said. "That was Alex. That wasn't anybody else."

Once UK secured the ball, Young came free for a second try at the top of the arc. He delivered, but the 9.6 seconds left on the clock proved to be too many and the Cats were left licking their wounds.

"It shook 'em, but it should," Calipari said when he was asked of the mood in the postgame locker room.

Shaken, maybe, but certainly not broken.

"It hurts a lot," Young said. "As everybody can see we're getting better as a team and that's what matters. We're getting closer. We're communicating a lot more and that's what I think helped us get into the overtime. We just got better as the game went on."

Coach Cal agrees.

"I hate losing, but I'm fine," Calipari said. "You know what? Those kids did not quit."

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