No. 19 Kentucky overcomes Belmont 93-80
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)
The Wildcats (9-3) fought back in the second half to beat Belmont 93-80 and hand the Bruins (8-5) their third consecutive loss after an 8-2 start.
''I was sure proud of our team,'' Belmont coach Rick Byrd. ''You would have been, too if you had seen our last two games and seen how poorly we'd played. The kind of effort that we're used to seeing, we didn't give on the road at South Dakota State and Denver.
''This game became about, `Let's get back to who we are and what we do and do it well a lot more often than we did on the road.' I think we accomplished that.''
The Bruins won at No. 12 North Carolina last month by hitting 15 of 37 from 3-point range, and they tried to replicate that formula before 24,224 at Rupp Arena. Belmont made 7 of 18 from long range in the first half but went cold in the second, missing 6 of their first 7 attempts from beyond the arc as the Wildcats took the momentum.
Kentucky took its first lead of the game with 16:21 remaining and didn't let up.
The Wildcats made 26 of 36 free throws while Belmont had just 13 attempts, making nine. They outscored the Bruins 52-34 in the paint.
Julius Randle scored a career-high 29 points, Aaron Harrison added 23 and Willie Cauley-Stein had 16 for Kentucky.
''The big difference in the game was Julius Randle,'' Byrd said. ''I don't know, if they didn't have him, how well we could guard them, but the guy took eight shots and scored 29 points. . We couldn't stop him from making them except to foul him.''
Belmont went up 25-14 thanks to a 13-2 run in the first half. The Bruins' spacing and ball movement led to 19 assists and plenty of open looks, but Kentucky's size always posed a problem.
Craig Bradshaw led Belmont with 22 points. Drew Windler had 21 points while going 5-of-8 from 3-point range, but only one came in the second half.
''With this lineup in particular, we pretty much have to make 3s in any game,'' Byrd said.
The Bruins struggled with foul trouble in the second half. Evan Bradds fouled out with 1:56 to play after scoring 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting, and Reece Chamberlain fouled out in the game's closing seconds.
Three more Belmont players finished with four fouls.
What pleased Kentucky coach John Calipari most about the victory was how his players overcame adversity. The Wildcats haven't always done that, most recently during last week's loss at North Carolina in which they let a game within their reach slip away.
Against the Bruins, they not only had to seize control but maintain it.
''We fought like heck,'' Calipari said. ''It's a hard team to play. They're going to shoot 30 3s. If they're making them, you lose.
''Against Carolina they made (15). Carolina lost. And they make 14 against us, we probably lose. ...We guarded it well enough and kind of got into their legs a little bit.''