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Big numbers or not, Randle all about the W at Ole Miss

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Julius Randle had 25 points and 13 rebounds in UK's 84-70 win at Ole Miss on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Randle had 25 points and 13 rebounds in UK's 84-70 win at Ole Miss on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
OXFORD, Miss. -- Seemingly, there was reason to worry.

Ole Miss had made a furious run to cut a UK lead that was once as large as 22 points, making it 76-70 with less than two minutes to go on a banked Anthony Perez 3-pointer.

The Wildcats, at that point, hadn't made a field goal in nearly eight minutes. With the shot clock running down, one of UK's assistants shouted for John Calipari to use a timeout and set up a play. For a moment, Coach Cal was going to follow the advice.

Until he saw the ball go to Julius Randle and his concern melted away.

"It was six seconds (left on the shot clock) and I looked up and he caught the ball and my mind quickly said, 'He's either getting fouled or he'll make this,' " Calipari said. "And that's how much confidence I have (in him)."

Randle delivered on his coach's confidence. He drilled a shot in the paint to trigger a game-ending 8-0 run as No. 18/16 UK (20-6, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) closed out an 84-70 victory at Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6 SEC).

It wasn't a designed play that resulted in the game-changing basket, rather an example of Randle trying to put what UK has been working on in practice into action.

"It's just what Coach has been talking about the past couple of days: chemistry," Randle said. "I just wanted to get to the available spot and we just had to make basketball plays. Just get to the open spot and see if I can get in and try to make a play for my team or myself."

Randle did plenty of that on Tuesday night. He had his 14th double-double by halftime en route to a final line of 25 points and 13 rebounds -- both game highs.

With Randle setting the tone, UK was downright dominant in the first half in Tad Smith Coliseum. The Wildcats raced out to a 42-25 halftime lead, shooting 58.6 percent from the field with well-executed fast breaks and half-court sets. On defense, UK handcuffed the Rebels to the tune of 0.735 points per possession.

Fans still unable to shake the expectations that have followed the Cats all season likely wondered whether they had found a new, permanent gear. Much as they enjoyed the first half, the players know that's not realistic.

"That's probably how every team wants to play every game and it's not gonna happen," said Aaron Harrison, who had 17 points. "You always have bad games and you just don't have the energy there and stuff like that. So that's what we're working on: just having energy. I think that whole big run just came from energy and enthusiasm."

At halftime, Coach Cal warned his team to expect a counter-punch.

"I was really proud of them that first half," Calipari said. "And again, I said at halftime, 'They're going to make a run. You do know that, right? Now let's see how we respond to it and let's make our own run.' "

After a Willie Cauley-Stein layup with 9:10 left, UK took its largest lead at 62-40. From there, the Rebels pieced together a 30-14 spurt to make things interesting. Perez scored 15 of his 21 points during the run, Jarvis Summers notched seven of his team-high 22 and Marshall Henderson had a pair of 3s to ignite the home crowd.

If not for their second-best free-throw shooting effort of the season, the Cats may not have survived.

They hit 27-of-30 (90 percent) at the line for the game, including 19 in a row to close the game to account for all but two of their final 21 points. Randle hit 10 of them -- and 13-of-14 for the game -- Aaron Harrison four, Cauley-Stein three and Andrew Harrison two.

"We knew we had to make free throws because, I mean, we weren't really making a lot of buckets and they started to make their shots," Aaron Harrison said. "We just knew that in basketball you have to make free throws when other things aren't going. We just took that opportunity to just get focused at the line."

At morning shootaround before the game, UK closed the session with some work at the line. Seconds in, watching a couple free throws miss badly, Coach Cal blew his whistle. He told the Cats to focus on "self-talk" as they step to the stripe and to exchange the often self-fulfilling negative thoughts for belief that the shots will fall.

At least for one night, it worked.

"You just gotta know that you're going to go up there and knock it down," Randle said. "We all had that focus. We all knew that when we got to the free-throw line we wanted to shoot because we knew we would make it. That showed up today."

More often by the day, players' words -- and more importantly, their play -- reflect the lessons Calipari has been hammering home all season.

That's perhaps truest when it comes to the way the Cats measure success.

"We all have goals individually, but the biggest thing we know is if we play together, play for each other, play as a team, just keep building our confidence, energy, doing what Coach is asking us to do our individual goals will be taken care of," Randle said. "Winning's the most important thing for all of us."

UK's star forward had four 20-point, 10-rebound performances in his first five college outings, but the one he had against the Rebels was just his second in nearly two months. Opponents have made Randle priority No. 1 in their defensive game plans since his scorching start to 2013-14 and he has had to adjust his approach, both mental and physical.

That's why Randle hardly pays attention to the box score these days.

"I think what Coach is asking me to do is rebound, run the floor, play really hard, defend every position and just bring energy, being a great teammate," Randle said. "And the rest will take care of itself. If I score or I don't, it doesn't really matter. If I do those things, I think I can put my team in position to win."

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