Northern Kentucky-Kentucky Preview
Julius Randle and Kentucky's other extremely talented freshmen have one more tune-up before facing their first major test.
Though the top-ranked Wildcats enjoyed a successful opener, they'll look for a more complete effort against visiting Northern Kentucky on Sunday.
With a matchup against second-ranked Michigan State in Chicago coming up Tuesday, Kentucky and its elite freshman class won't wait long for their first serious challenge. First, the Wildcats must focus on their initial meeting with Northern Kentucky, which makes the 85-mile trip south to Lexington.
Though the Norse are playing in their second season as a Division I program, they led most of the night during a 77-76 loss at Purdue on Friday.
That, and a somewhat rocky first half in Friday's 89-57 victory over UNC-Asheville, should be enough to keep the Wildcats from looking ahead.
Randle, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound prize of Kentucky's latest recruiting class, scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half and pulled down 15 rebounds in 26 minutes. Fellow freshman Marcus Lee scored 17 and sophomore Alex Poythress, now coming off the bench after starting last season, added 10 points and 13 boards.
The freshman starting backcourt of James Young and brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison combined for 29 points but shot 7 of 21.
"It was fun. Getting a chance to actually be in a real game with our whole team playing," Lee said. "(Also) it just shows that we have a lot to do."
The Wildcats trailed midway through a first half in which they shot 37.9 percent, recording as many turnovers as assists (four), before shooting 56.7 percent in the final 20 minutes with eight assists and three turnovers. Kentucky held the Bulldogs to 38.6 percent shooting and owned a 48-31 rebounding advantage.
"We're getting better every game, but we still have a long way to go," Randle said. "We're nowhere near where we should be, but I think as the intensity and the competition keeps going up, I think we'll have guys rise to the challenge."
Though coach John Calipari thought Randle could have been even more dominant on the glass, he was pleased with the debut of the SEC's preseason player of the year.
"When he's going after it and he's getting the ball by people and getting that third and fourth play around the goal, there's no one better," Calipari said.
Randle and his teammates could be in for a slightly tougher challenge against Northern Kentucky, which went 13 of 26 from 3-point range and led Purdue by four points with just under a minute to play.
Jordan Jackson missed two free throws with 19 seconds left and the Norse leading by one, then the Boilermakers hit a pair six seconds later and would hold on to win after Northern Kentucky missed two baskets in the final seconds.
"I was really proud of the way our guys battled the entire game. We just came up a possession short," coach Dave Bezold said.
Despite missing those late free throws, Jackson finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists in his first Division I contest after playing two years at the junior-college level.
In its only meeting with a Top 25 team as a Division I member, Northern Kentucky lost 70-43 to then-No. 4 Ohio State on Dec. 1.