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No-quit Cats use Randle's game winner to take down LSU

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Julius Randle's game winner in the final seconds gave UK a 77-76 win over LSU on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Randle's game winner in the final seconds gave UK a 77-76 win over LSU on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The script seemed perfectly written for LSU.

Riding a point guard making a return to his home state and a roster laden with NBA talent, the Tigers seemed poised to pull the upset in Rupp Arena.

But even though Anthony Hickey just kept hitting big shots and the Tigers couldn't miss in overtime -- shooting 5 of 6 from the field -- Kentucky found a way.

"We lost an overtime game before (at Arkansas)," Andrew Harrison said. "We all told each other during overtime, 'We're not losing this one.' So we just kept coming. They hit some big shots in overtime. Big shots. We just kept coming and kept fighting and kept swinging."

After Hickey hit a 3-pointer with 1:53 left in regulation, UK trailed for most of the next 6:50 and led for just 11 seconds after James Young drilled a pair of clutch free throws late it overtime. At various points, the situation seemed dire, especially when the Wildcats lost Hickey (20 points, eight assists and five rebounds) on an in-bounds play to fall behind 74-71 with less than two minutes on the clock.

Asked postgame whether he was concerned in that moment, Harrison didn't play it cool.

"Worried?" Harrison said. "Yeah, definitely. But Coach was saying, 'We're not losing.' Somebody says something like that, (you) have to believe it."

Harrison didn't play it cool when the buzzer sounded on a heart-stopping 77-76 Kentucky victory either.

After Andre Stringer hit a jumper to put LSU up one with 12 seconds left, UK countered quickly. Even though John Calipari had timeouts in his pocket, he let the young Cats play on.

"I wasn't going to stop that clock and give them a chance to interject coaches," Calipari said. "I just said, 'Let us play. Our kids are ready for this.' "

He was right.

James Young -- who scored six of his 20 points in overtime - drove, as he and Aaron Harrison (21 points) had done nonstop down the stretch. On the way up and facing contact, Young lost the ball. In the right place at the right time, Julius Randle grabbed the ball.

"That's the basketball gods," Randle said. "I mean, James was being aggressive like he was the whole game. He did a great job of getting into the paint, and if he put in on the rim or just put it up I was going to get it. They've been trying to box me out the whole game, killing me, but luckily that one just fell right into my hands."

Randle had 15 rebounds when the loose ball came to him, but his coach believed he should have had more. With that in mind, Coach Cal gave a directive to his star freshman in the closing minutes.

"Just get an offensive rebound to win the game," Calipari said. "Quit getting blocked out, quit getting in a mud wrestling match with somebody."

Calipari's words proved prophetic, though Randle wasn't officially credited with an offensive rebound on the game-winning play.

He gathered himself in the paint, rose through traffic and put the ball in his with his left hand. Randle had made just two baskets at that point, but his seventh and eighth points gave UK (21-6, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) a payback win over LSU (16-10, 7-7 SEC).

"I don't know what happened," Randle said. "The basketball gods, that's all I can say. James was being aggressive. I don't know if he missed it or he got blocked or whatever, but it fell into my hands."

It was a blur for Randle after the shot too.

With Hickey on the bench with five fouls, UK retreated on defense and Young came up with a game-clinching steal. As soon as the clock hit zero, Andrew Harrison did his best imitation of a defensive end pursuing a quarterback and tackled a jubilant Randle.

"It was pretty tough, but I took him down," said Andrew Harrison.

Andrew Harrison had to go above the shoulders to do it, which likely would have drawn a personal foul on the football field, but it was all in good fun.

"He apologized for it afterwards," Randle said. "But what can I say? I have great teammates."

Building that kind of camaraderie has been a theme all season, but especially over the last week.

"When we lost to Florida, we knew we could have won and made some mistakes at the end. So we started talking about thinking differently and having more confidence in us and chemistry," Andrew Harrison said.

UK's point guard called on that confidence in a crucial moment at the end of regulation. Andrew Harrison scored just nine points on 3-of-13 shooting, but stepped to the line with 10 seconds to go and his team down two points.

"I think (making) free throws is about confidence," Andrew Harrison said. "Knowing that you're going to make it is really the biggest thing."

He delivered and UK would go on to use Randle's heroics to win a game decided by five points or fewer for just the second time all season.

"We (are) still just going to keep working hard, just keep fighting, doing little things," Aaron Harrison said. "I think that's why we won. We scratched and clawed to get the win. So I think we're going to build off of this game and keep getting better."

Eyeing that improvement, Calipari knows what his team's next objective is. He confirmed UK is "getting closer" to where it needs to be, particularly with the way the Cats refused to wilt when they had every opportunity.

However, it took some prodding to get there.

Calipari recalled when UK had to foul at the end of regulation to extend the play. He noticed his players putting their heads down and had to encourage them. When the Cats do arrive, that won't be necessary.

"It proves we're still coach driven instead of player driven," Calipari said. "We've got to get to where I'm doing less and they're doing more."

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Randle and Harrison played a great game in the win over LSU.

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