Julius Randle finished with 29 points and 10 boards and Willie Cauley-Stein chipped in with 16 points and seven boards as No. 19 Kentucky withstood an early three-point barrage to knock off Belmont 93-80.
The Bruins were scorching from beyond the arc in the first half, taking a lead that stretched to as much as 11, but Kentucky’s defense started to tighten up in the second half. Those three-point looks weren’t as clean in the second half. The problem, however, was that much of that defensive improvement coincided with the Harrison twins struggling with foul.
Dominique Hawkins played really well for the Wildcats, but the problem with relying on Hawkins to be a guy that sparks the defense is that he’s much better suited to playing teams at Belmont’s level than he is to playing some of the nation’s elite programs. He can make like difficult for J.J. Mann or Craig Bradshaw. Can he do the same against Kasey Hill or Jordan Clarkson?
There were two other good signs coming out of Saturday’s win.
For starters, Kentucky made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside to Randle. He’s the guy that Coach Cal needs the offense to run through. He’s the guy that can rip off a 29-point, 10-board performance like it’s nothing. This comes after the North Carolina game, where the Kentucky offense devolved into far too much one-on-one.
The other positive was the play of Aaron Harrison. He finished with 23 points, eight assists and seven boards, continuing what has now turned into a month of terrific play. Andrew was the more-hyped of the twins in high school, but Aaron has been terrific this season.