Kentucky has had its moments this season where its youthful roster played like an inexperience team in close situations.
This was exactly not the case as the Wildcats prevailed over Louisville (73-66) behind the wonderful play of freshman Andrew Harrison and a lockdown defense at Rupp Arena Saturday. Harrison started extremely slow in the first half and did not score a point. However, he came out of the locker room a changed player in the second half. Harrison scored all of his 18 points in the second half because he asserted himself into the game as a go-to player. He flew to the basket, used quick moves to find space, and led fast breaks.
Harrison’s effort was much-needed because coach John Calipari did not have Julius Randle for much of the half due to what looked to be a leg injury. Randle was an offensive force in the first half; he scored 17 points and was dominating the game.
Kentucky had an extremely balanced attack to go along with Harrison’s effort. Freshman James Young actually had the stat-line of the game with a double-double of 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Young did not shoot well, but it was his enthusiastic play on both sides of the court that helped Kentucky rebound from a 52-51 deficit to go on a 12-4 run that all but put the Cardinals away. Kentucky’s balance came in the form of four players scoring at least 10 points and the team only committing 11 turnovers against Louisville’s pressure defense.
This may be the game the Wildcats look back as the point in the season where the youngsters were no longer playing like freshman. Kentucky had fallen three times this season in close games because the Wildcats did not have a close-out style. Kentucky was able to shut down Louisville’s offense and hit enough shots late. Louisville only shot 39 percent from the field and 23 percent from three. Only two Cardinals, Russ Smith (19 points) and Chris Jones (18 points), scored in double-digits.
This game may scare the rest of the SEC if Kentucky can get this balance on offense and play defense with this much tenacity. If the Wildcats can remain this consistent all season, the SEC championship may not be only trophy they hold up this season.
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