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Kentucky Tops Louisville, 73-66

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

Without Julius Randle for most of the second half—and without an effective Randle for any of the half at all—No. 18 Kentucky turned in one of its most impressive and perhaps unexpected performances of the season to date, thwarting every Louisville push without the player who controlled the first half.

In the end, the Wildcats held on to top the No. 6 Cardinals 73-66, earning a win in their final non-conference game, a win that will likely prove vital when the NCAA tournament selection committee considers the Wildcats in March given the lack of opportunities in SEC play for elite wins.

Point guard Andrew Harrison had perhaps his best game as a Wildcat so far, setting his career high with 18 points. He was the most consistent presence throughout the game, sustaining throughout James Young’s struggles early (though he did heat up), Aaron Harrison’s struggles to contribute much of anything at all on offense for the first 30 minutes, and then throughout the second when Randle was injured.

Randle scored 17 points in the first half but was largely hobbled by leg cramps in what little time he played in the second; at one point, he limped off the bench and into the locker room; later, he came back in. Still hobbled, he pulled up on one play with about 11 minutes to play, clearly disturbed. Chris Jones scored a lay-up while being fouled on that play. Randle came out on the dead ball.

(SEE ALSO: The Wildcats Unlocked Something Special, Flourishing Without Julius Randle KY Forward)

When Randle left with 11:01 to play, Kentucky went on a 15-4 run to build a 66-56 lead. Andrew Harrison scored six of those points. Kentucky’s lead matched 10 points two other times but never exceeded it.

The Cardinals scored the first eight points of the game in just over two minutes, six on Chris Jones 3-pointers, but the Wildcats answered with their defense as much as their offense. Kentucky buckled down in the half-court, and limiting its turnovers and controlling the glass stopped Louisville from creating many scoring opportunities in transition. After Louisville’s fast start, the Cardinals only scored four points over the next four minutes, at which point Kentucky had taken a 14-12 lead.

The first half featured five lead changes and three ties, and both teams’ largest leads (nine for Kentucky, eight for Louisville) were quickly answered and brought back to within two possessions.

Chris Jones and Russ Smith carried the Cardinals’ offense as they have all season, but Jones was not nearly as large a factor in the second half. Jones had 15 points at halftime but finished with 18. Smith finished with 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting.

Kentucky (10-3) has off about a week and a half before beginning SEC play Jan. 8 at home against Mississippi State.

Photo: Andrew Harrison had one of his best games to date as a Wildcats, scoring 18 points. (Photo by James Pennington)