LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach John Calipari was so focused on coaching his team that he barely noticed star forward Julius Randle was on the bench being treated for cramps.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison knew he wasn’t there and their work in offsetting his absence proved crucial in overcoming No. 6 Louisville. The identical twin freshmen combined for 28 points, including 11 during a critical second-half stretch with Randle sidelined, helping the 18th-ranked Wildcats earn a 73-66 victory on Saturday.
“It always hurts you when you lose a great player,” said Andrew Harrison, who went 6 of 16 from the field. “But at the same time, we all knew we had to bring it and that just means we all had to step it up a little bit.”
Randle’s 17 first-half points staked Kentucky (10-3) to a 41-36 halftime lead before the 6-foot-9 forward went to the locker room early in the second with leg cramps. He returned but soon limped to the bench with more cramps and spent the rest of the game on the bench.
The Harrison twins amply filled the void, turning a 52-51 deficit with 11:01 remaining into a 68-58 lead with four minutes left. Andrew Harrison and James Young each scored 18 points with Young adding a key 3-pointer during the 17-6 run that helped Kentucky beat its in-state archrival for the fifth time in six meetings.
“Andrew played incredible today down the stretch,” forward Alex Poythress said.
The young, talented Wildcats also earned their first win against a ranked opponent in four tries this season. This victory was particularly impressive coming against the defending national champions, who entered with significantly more experience than Kentucky’s squad featuring six high school All-Americans.
“I thought we grew up,” Calipari said. “We looked like a basketball team today. Here’s what was on the (drawing) board today: ‘Look like a team. Play like a team. Fight like a team.’ Those were the keys to the victory.”