By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — He had one of his best games, but Tennessee junior Jarnell Stokes (20 points, 15 rebounds) wasn’t about to knock Julius Randle.
“I wasn’t getting into any hype of anything. Julius Randle is legit,” said Stokes after Randle and UK beat Tennessee 74-66 here Saturday.
Randle had 16 of his 18 points in the first half, but he had a season-low three rebounds as the Vols stunned UK 39-24 on the boards.
“It was just a battle. We knew from the beginning it was going to be a war. That’s basically what we prepared for, and I think that’s why we won the game,” Randle said. “It was extremely physical. As far as player for player, it was probably the most physical game, I would probably say, just as far as getting rebounds and finishing around the basket, but we expected that coming in.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he used Randle in “different spots out on the court” the first half and “told him to beat the guy on the dribble and he created for his teammates.” The second half Tennessee “crowded” him and Calipari felt he held the ball too long, so he ran the offense more through point guard Andrew Harrison.
“These things, you’re trying to do what you can to win the game, and then you deal with egos after. Let’s just win, and I’ll deal with all that stuff after. Again, he’s a physical player. He gave them trouble,” Calipari said of Randle.
Randle didn’t question Calipari’s reasoning.
“I see where Coach is coming from on that. The first half, I was a lot more open. In the second half, they kind of made the adjustment, packed it in. I probably tried to force things a little too much,” he said.
Here’s more of what Randle had to say Saturday as Kentucky gets set to return to SEC play Tuesday night when it hosts Texas A&M.
Question: What happened that Tennessee won the rebounding 39-24?
Randle: “It was just offensive rebounds. I think they had 13 offensive rebounds in the first half. If we would have limited that it would have been a pretty even matchup on the boards. It was just a couple bad bounces. Just didn’t play hard enough, I guess. That’s really all I can say. Those dudes are pretty big dudes. Today we kind of lost in that department.”
Question: Did he try to put the team on his shoulders in the first half …
Randle: “I just feel like we kind of started off slow and the team didn’t do well. I just tried to be aggressive and pick my spots, kind of take the big off the perimeter. I knew I kind of had that advantage there. That’s what I really tried to do in the first half. In the second half Andrew got it going and kind of carried us in the second half.”
Question: How has he seen point guard Andrew Harrison improve?
Randle: “Coach talked about it yesterday or the day before about just the PGs (point guards) he’s had in his career, how later in the season they get better and better, and we’re seeing that with Andrew. He was huge for us. He contributed really well in the first half and the second half he really came on.”
Question: What does hitting shots outside — he made his first 3-pointer at UK Saturday — do for the rest of his game?
Randle: “It just opens up a lot. The biggest thing with me is my versatility. I can do a lot of different things and catching the ball at different spots on the floor. Me doing that was huge. It opened up a lot. It opened up, also, passes for other people. It’s harder to double and triple team me out there. Coach just wants us to play. I’m just seeing how they’re trying to guard me and I’m taking it from there. If I’m out on the perimeter I can look to attack. If I’m in the post I can kick it out and repost. I’m just playing basketball, and that’s what Coach is wanting us to do.”
Question: What do teammates have to do to take some of the physical play off him the rest of the season?
Randle: “I think they’re doing a good. It’s something I’ve been used to my whole career. It’s really not a big deal. The biggest thing is I have to keep taking care of my body. I think everybody is competing and battling, so I think we’ll be fine.”
Question: What did UK do differently at the free-throw line?
“We have guys who have great form and great technique. I think it’s just a matter of time. Everybody can make shots and make free throws. It’s just a focus thing.”
Question: Was it a relief to see so many shots at the foul line go in for a change?
Randle: “I didn’t even notice it. I didn’t notice we went 23 for 24 or something like that. That’s great.”
Question: What does it mean that they won even though they weren’t the most physical team?
Randle: “We just made tough plays, thank God. We played hard, we played together as a team and we made our free throws.”
Question: What did Dakari Johnson add, especially in the second half?
Randle: “He did a great job on Jarnell. He was kind of able to be physical with him, kind of limit him a little bit on the rebounding. He did a great job.”