LEXINGTON — Senior guard Jarrod Polson and freshman guard Dominique Hawkins provided the spark, while freshman forward Julius Randle provided the bulk to lead the Kentucky Wildcats past the Belmont Bruins, 93-80, Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena.
The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randle poured in 29 points on 8 of 10 shooting from the outside and 13 of 19 free throws, as the Wildcats improved to 9-3.
UK does not play again until rival Louisville comes to Rupp Arena Saturday for a 4 p.m. tip.
“The big difference in the game was Julius Randle,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd after his team fell to 8-5. “If they didn’t have him, I know we could guard them better. He made eight shots and
scored 29 points. I don’t know if I can find many games where a guy gets three and a half times the amount of points more than the shots he took. We couldn’t stop him except by fouling him. And he’s so strong, our guys fouled him, and he doesn’t even notice.
“I felt like we did all we could. We just have no one inside to match him. You need bulk and the ability to move laterally against a guy who can play like him. Length and size help, also. We were 0-for-3 in that category.”
Still, Randle’s considerable contributions may not have mattered had it not been for the efforts off the bench of Polson and Hawkins, who entered the game early and made up for lethargic efforts by freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, freshman swing man James Young, sophomore forward Alex Poythress and others.
Kentucky was especially lacking on the defensive end in the first half, and the Bruins took advantage, leading through the entire opening 20 minutes by as many as 11 points.
Polson played a season-high 21 minutes and contributed only three points and an assist, while Hawkins played 22 minutes and added two points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal. But this is a case where numbers lie. The contributions of those two spark plugs were immeasurable.
“I think we were down 10 or 11 when I got in,” Polson said. “The crowd was dead, and Belmont was hitting shots. I tried to push the ball. That’s what Coach Cal wanted me to do. I felt like I did pretty good with that.”
“I was really proud of Jarrod,” said UK coach John Calipari, who also said that the lethargic efforts of some of his players was merely due to the whims of youth.
“You say, ‘What did Jarrod add to the game?’ Energy. Nothing else. So now you understand what energy does for our team. If you’re sitting there, and you’re one of the guys not playing, you’re saying, ‘Man, I’ve got to play with energy.’”
A crowd of 24,224 certainly responded to the spark provided by both Polson.
“The crowd always likes when I do well, and having them behind me was really a good feeling,” Polson said. “I think it got our team going a little bit, too. Being able to play today with the team and getting a lot of minutes like I did was really fun for me. I try and bring energy ... that’s the biggest thing I try to do.”
Calipari said he hopes Polson’s effort is a good example for Andrew Harrison, who picked up two early fouls.
“I sat him (Andrew) next to me, so I could talk him through what Jarrod was doing, because he can do everything Jarrod can do to another level, and he’s not,” Calipari said.
Calipari said Hawkins, meanwhile, adds energy and toughness, and some defensive plays that Polson can’t simply because Polson isn’t as athletically gifted as Hawkins.
“I put him (Hawkins) in for James (Young), and he dives on the floor and gets the ball that basically ends the game,” Calipari noted. “What he does is he gets everything he can out of his body. Everything. It’s incredible. It’s great for our guys to see.”
Calipari said he’s not worried about Andrew Harrison, however.
“I’m just going to keep working with him because at the end of the day, I want Andrew to be the best point guard in the country,” Calipari said. “I don’t want there to be any question. Right now, most games, he’s not the best point guard on the court. We’ve just got to get it changed. He has the talent, he has the ability and he has the mindset.”
Andrew’s twin brother, Aaron, needs no such prodding. Aaron was solid Saturday, contributing 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 27 minutes.
Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein added 16 points and seven rebounds for a UK team that wore down the Bruins, taking a 50-48 lead early in the second half and slowly increasing that down the stretch.
Kentucky shot 32 of 58 from the field for 55.2 percent and 26 of 36 at the free throw line for 72.2 percent.
The Wildcats out-rebounded Belmont, 42-25.
Junior guard Reece Chamberlain led the Bruins with 22 points, and senior forward Drew Windler added 21 points, including five of eight from 3-point range.