Kentucky's Randle faces sizable challenge from Baylor in Texas homecoming

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 4, 2013 

Julius Randle, who returns home to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Kentucky's game against Baylor on Friday, had a restaurant recommendation. "III Forks," he said of a Dallas steakhouse. "That's a good steak."

That might also be one fork for each of the three defenders Randle expects to see whenever he gets the ball near the basket.

Yes, Baylor can look UK in the eye with a rotation of big men that includes 7-footer Isaiah Austin, 6-9 Cory Jefferson and backup Rico Gathers, who is a mere 6-8, 270.

"They have some long, athletic 'bigs,'" Randle said Wednesday. "It'll be a challenge."

All that size suggests the possibility of one-on-one opportunities for Randle in the low post. Well, not really.

"If they play me one-on-one, I'll be surprised," Randle said.

Baylor Coach Scott Drew declined to tell reporters Wednesday how he intended for his team to defend Randle. Although he did say, "We're blessed to have a lot of depth, a lot of size and depth to throw at him."

Austin vouched for how Randle presents a challenge.

"Great player," he said. "He's aggressive. He has God-given talent."

Randle is getting a tutorial on how to play against collapsing, trapping defenses. He's a willing passer, which is good, because defenses are trying to will him to pass.

"In high school, you're so much bigger and stronger and faster than guys," Randle said. "You can just fight through it. In college, you have guys just as strong, just as fast as you. It's a different level, a different challenge.

"But nothing I can't handle."

When asked what he's learned so far in dealing with being the focal point of defenses, Randle smiled brightly.

"Trust in my teammates," he said. "Patience. Stuff like that. This is not high school, where you can do what you want. You have to be patient.

"It's going pretty good so far."

Of course, Randle posted double-doubles in each of UK's first seven games, which equalled Jim Andrews' program record to start a season (1971-72). No doubt, his compelling second half against Michigan State sparked much discussion of trapping the post by future UK opponents. By the way, the NCAA record for consecutive double-doubles in a season is 29, by Mel Counts of Oregon State in 1963-64.

Providence denied a double-double on Sunday, although Randle still had a productive 12 points and eight rebounds while equalling a career-high four assists.

Kentucky won 79-65 with Randle's teammates making 23 of 32 shots (71.9 percent).

"Just to see those guys step up and make plays, it's a big relief to me," Randle said. "And it's also encouraging for me because I know they're growing. It's only going to help me and help them."

The onus shifts to the defense in the form of the familiar pick-your-poison dilemma.

"They've got to pick and choose what they want," he said. "If you double and triple me, then you have to live with those other guys making shots. If you want to single-cover (the post), then I'll be able to make plays."

UK Coach John Calipari, who lobbied for more foul calls on defenders who slap down on low-post scorers, suggested that Randle can be harder on himself than any defender.

"The only thing I said (to him was), 'Quit trying to be perfect,'" Calipari said. "You try to act like you should make every play. Just stop. Just try to play harder than the other guy. Just worry about that. Don't worry about anything else."

If Randle misses a shot or fails or turns the ball over against a double-team? "So what?" Calipari said. "It doesn't matter."

Calipari also said that he expected Baylor to play zone against Kentucky "95 percent" of the game, which suggests plenty of company for Randle in the low post.

Kentucky's game against Baylor in AT&T Stadium (where the Dallas Cowboys play home games) is a homecoming in more ways than one. Randle, who played for Prestonwood Christian in the Dallas area, comes home. Aaron and Andrew Harrison are from Richmond, Texas. All were recruiting targets of Baylor. Drew noted how the Harrison twins had been visiting the Baylor campus since the eighth or ninth grade.

When asked about Randle, Drew told reporters how the UK forward is easy to root for. "We just won't cheer for him on Friday," the Baylor coach said. "But he's a real nice kid, too, which is great."

Randle noted how Friday's game fulfilled "a dream of mine to come back to my home." He spoke of the joy of seeing family and friends.

But there's another trip to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The 2014 Final Four will be in AT&T Stadium.

"Very important," Randle said of that possible return trip. "That's the most important thing this year."


Friday

No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor

When: 10 p.m.

Where: Arlington, Texas

Records: Kentucky 7-1, Baylor 7-1

TV: ESPN

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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