LEXINGTON, Ky. – Julius Randle showed why he has merited a place on several preseason award watch lists, scoring 23 points and grabbing 15 rebounds Friday in leading No. 1 Kentucky to a season-opening 89-57 win over UNC Asheville.
The 6-foot-9 freshman from Dallas came within two points and two rebounds of UK’s all-time records for players making their debut with the Wildcats. Terrence Jones scored 25 points in his first game in 2010 against East Tennessee State. Sam Bowie pulled down 17 rebounds in his debut against Duke in 1979.
“Julius Randle is a specimen,” UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt said. “He is very, very good. Rarely do you see a guy with that kind of size and athleticism and skill level. Coach Cal is going to have fun coaching him.”
Perhaps the only one among a Rupp Arena crowd of 22,413 who wasn’t thoroughly impressed with Randle was his coach, who suggested the player could have easily posted a 20/20 game.
“When he's going after it and he's getting the ball by people and getting that third and fourth play around the goal, there's no one better,” John Calipari later conceded. “And how is he shooting free throws? So what do you think you'll tell him? Get fouled.”
Randle converted 11 of his 13 attempts at the free throw line on a night when the rest of the Cats were abysmal there. UK’s other players combined to go 19 of 35 at the line, the lone negative blip on the radar in an otherwise dominant performance.
“My three guards went 12-for-21,” Calipari said. “So, like I said, how do I get you the ball late in the game? What, so you'll get fouled and miss? Then I said, is there anybody in the Craft (Center) tonight? Go over and shoot free throws. Walk 12 steps across the street (from the players’ dorm) and go shoot free throws.”
UK’s first official game under college basketball’s new rules of emphasis featured 52 personal fouls and 69 free throws.
“They are hard to guard; they are hard to guard,” McDevitt said. “With the new points of emphasis, not new rules, just new points of emphasis – they are actually enforcing the rules that we’ve had – it’s just hard to contain guys that are that quick, that big, that athletic, that skilled. They are good. I felt like we did a pretty decent job for a while, and we did see a lot of free throws, 69 free throws. I think we’ve got a lot of smart basketball players in the country, a lot of smart coaches. I’m sure we will all adjust.”
Brick-laying at the so-called “charity stripe” aside, it was a strong showing the Cats, who also got a double-double from sophomore forward Alex Poythress with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
"I thought he was terrific," Calipari said of Poythress. "... He's playing to his strengths, trying to be the best version of him, and I thought he was terrific today."
Freshmen Marcus Lee (17), James Young (11), Aaron Harrison (10) also reached double-figure scoring for the talented, young Wildcats.
“They have a fantastic ball club,” McDevitt said. “As most of you saw, and so did we, they have lots of big, long athletes, and they are a load to handle. They are going to have a really good year.”
Kentucky led 41-31 at the intermission before a 10-2 run helped open up a comfortable margin early in the second half. The Cats finished with a 20-2 advantage in points off turnovers and a 25-6 edge in second-chance points.
Will Weeks led UNC Asheville (0-1) with 19 points and seven rebounds. Andrew Rowsey added 12 points for the Bulldogs, who shot 39 percent (22 of 57) from the field and were outrebounded 48-31.
• Kentucky started with the lineup of Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein. Four freshmen have started in 135 games in Kentucky history, 96 of which have occurred under Coach Calipari.
• The Wildcats forced three shot-clock violations during the game after having only six all of last season.
• UK returns to action Sunday at Rupp Arena against Northern Kentucky at 4 p.m. The game will be televised by affiliates of the Fox Sports Network, including Fox Sports South.