With their best player sidelined due to serious cramping issues, No. 18 Kentucky trailed No. 6 Louisville 52-51 with 11:01 remaining. And given how young John Calipari’s team is, and their lack of a signature victory to date, that moment represented a major point in the Wildcats’ season.
And Kentucky’s young backcourt rose to the challenge, with the Harrison twins combining to score 21 points and James Young adding six in the second half as the Wildcats beat their in-state rivals, 73-66.
With Randle on the floor in the first half there were issues in regards to shot selection in the first 20 minutes, but without the big man that trio had to take over offensively. And they did, playing a more efficient brand of basketball in the process. After combining to shoot 6-for-24 in the first half with Randle going 7-for-8, the Harrison twins (Andrew: 18 points; Aaron: ten points) and Young (18 points, ten rebounds) shot a combined 10-for-21 in the second half.
Was this a watershed moment for the young Wildcats? That remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that their second half performance is a step in the right direction.
To limit the progress to those three would be a mistake however, as Kentucky limited Louisville to 32.1% shooting in the second half and 39.7% for the game. Sure Louisville has its own issues to address, especially when it comes to what their front court provides offensively, but Kentucky did a good job of limiting the Cardinals’ quality looks. And there’s also the offensive rebounding, with Kentucky rebounding 41.5% of its missed shots on the afternoon.
This is an area in which Kentucky’s been good all season, as they entered Saturday’s game as the nation’s best offensive rebounding team, and they took advantage of the second chances in the first half (11-0 first-half edge in second chance points; 17-6 for the game) to overcome Louisville’s hot start.
Looking forward there are still issues to address, most notably making sure Randle’s taken care of offensively when he’s in position to score. Louisville had no answer for him when he was on the floor, and that will continue to be the case in most of the games left on Kentucky’s schedule.
He wasn’t available for much of the second half and without one of the nation’s best players in the second half Kentucky could have wilted, but instead they rose to the challenge. And that’s just as important for the Wildcats moving forward as the result.