By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
LEXINGTON — Julius Randle has heard the youth versus experience argument. The Kentucky freshman forward isn’t buying the notion that Florida’s experience played a role in the Wildcats’ 69-59 loss to the third-ranked Gators Saturday night at Rupp Arena.
“I think we’re pretty experienced,” said Randle, who had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. “Twenty-plus games into the season, we just need to finish the games off better than we did.”
Randle and the Wildcats controlled the tempo in the first half and led 31-28 at the half. Randle had a big hand in Kentucky’s impressive first-half performance with 10 points and six rebounds. Randle said the crowd played a role in the team’s ability to get off to a fast start.
“It (the crowd) was amazing,” he said. “It was a big lift for us right off the bat. It kept us energized and it kept us fighting.”
Randle had just two field-goal attempts in the second half and his only three points came from the free-throw line. Randle was active on the boards with seven rebounds but failed to match his first-half offensive numbers. Florida’s defense made it difficult for Randle to maneuver in the post.
“I told him quit spinning — you’re coming on the spin,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Just get it to the rim or pass it. We worked all week on they’re going to double, dribble out of the double team, which Willie (Cauley-Stein) did, threw it to him and he dunked it. But it was hard to get the other guys to really accept it. Just two guys are on you, you’ve got to pass.”
Randle said the team’s second-half letdown was easy to dissect. Florida, which made juts 33 percent of its shots in the first half, starting making shots and applied more pressure on the defensive end.
“We were communicating a lot better and we didn’t have as many breakdowns,” Randle said. “That second half, they shot 60 percent.”
Although Randle is convinced there isn’t much of a talent-gap between the two Southeastern Conference rivals, he said the Cats need to produce better at crunch time.
“We have to play better down the stretch,” Randle said. “We’ve just got to get over the hump.”
Calipari added that Randle is making strides but hasn’t reach his full potential. The Kentucky coach said Randle is still trying the grasp the concept of passing the ball while in a double-team.
“It’s still — it’s still a work in progress,” he said. “It’s still a work in progress. Julius is a great passer, literally a – just not a willing passer right now. So what happens is by the time he passes it it’s getting tipped or he’s getting tipped, just – he’s learning and there are times they’re going to take you away, then they take you away and your teammates do the damage and we win anyway and go rebound and defend. He’s still learning, it’s a work in progress.”
As expected, the loss to Florida didn’t sit well with Randle and the Wildcats, who have a rematch with the Gators on March 8 in Gainesville. Randle said the Wildcats can’t dwell on the setback and must keep moving forward.
“Of course everybody was a little upset,” Randle said. “But everyone was in good spirits, ready to move on and get better.”