Randle rescues Cats

On a day when he only managed to get three shots to fall, Kentucky's Julius Randle proved that being around the ball can be just as important as scoring it.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – On a day when he only managed to get three shots to fall, Kentucky's Julius Randle proved that being around the ball can be just as important as scoring it.

The freshman forward scooped up a loose ball and laid it in the basket with 3.9 seconds left in overtime to rescue the No. 18 Wildcats in a 77-76 win over LSU on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Randle finished with only eight points, only half of his team-leading season average, but pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds in addition to his clutch play to give UK the win. He grabbed the loose ball after LSU had denied James Young on drive just seconds earlier that could have given the Tigers their second win over the Cats this season.

"James (Young) was being aggressive just like he was the whole game," Randle said. "He did a great job getting into the paint. If he put it on the rim, I was going to get it. They had been trying to box me out the whole game. Luckily, that one fell right into my hands."

It was the type of hard-fought victory that has eluded Kentucky (21-6, 11-3 SEC) at times this season. The Cats had lost five games by five points or less, including an 87-82 defeat at LSU on January 28.

"A game like that is tough," Randle said. "There were plenty of times we could have put our head down. There was a time when we did put our head down. We could have said forget it, but we didn't... We just kept fighting."

"We're getting closer," UK coach John Calipari said. "… That's an NCAA tournament game there. That's what it's going to be like, that kind of game."

"You have to give credit to Kentucky at the end," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "It came down to a loose-ball war, and they were able to get that big loose ball at the end. They had a big tip-in to finish it. It was a really well-played game. Both teams were playing extremely well. Unfortunately, we came up a little short."

Aaron Harrison led the Cats with a game-high 21 points, including a 7-for-7 effort at the line. Young added 20 points for UK and hit the team's only 3-pointer on a 1-for-9 shooting day from beyond the arc.

The Cats made up for the perimeter shooting shortfall by dominating points in the paint 50-28. Twenty-four of those came via second-chance opportunities on 17 offensive rebounds. UK won the battle on the glass 43-40.

"You have to understand what we were telling them every timeout, which was, drive the ball, do not settle," Calipari said.

LSU (16-10, 7-7 SEC) got 20 points and 12 rebounds from junior forward Johnny O'Bryant, who had torched Kentucky for 29 points in the first matchup. This time, however, he shot only 8-for-25 from the field and committed five turnovers.

Former Kentucky "Mr. Basketball" Anthony Hickey, a Hopkinsville native, added 20 points and eight assists for the Tigers before fouling out with 23 seconds left in overtime. He carried LSU through much of the second half, finishing 4-for-9 from 3-point range.

Andrew Harrison sent the game into overtime with a pair of free throws at the end of regulation. He had missed jump shots on the previous two trips down the floor, but penetrated the LSU defense to get himself to the foul line when the game was on the line.

A Hickey 3-pointer broke a 69-69 tie with 2:48 left in overtime. He also scored on LSU's next possession to put the visitors up 74-71.

Kentucky reclaimed the lead, 75-74, on two free throws by Randle and two by Young.

Back came LSU, though, to take a 76-75 lead on Andre Stringer's hanging drive over UK center Willie Cauley-Stein with 10 seconds remaining. That set up the decisive sequence.

The Tigers had one last chance to win the game, but Stringer was stripped near midcourt by UK's Young as time expired, setting off a wild celebration by the Cats in the corner of one end zone. Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison ran to jump on Randle's back, and the other Cats came flying over to join in the "dogpile" celebration.

"I'm proud in a lot of ways," Calipari said. "But let's give credit to LSU. They beat us by a hundred down there and had us here. Someone wants to question whether they're an NCAA tournament team? Why? So no one else loses? LSU is the only one that lost a couple games? You have teams with the same record that are five seeds. "(LSU) is doing great. This was a great game for both of us. I'm just happy we pulled it out at the end."

NOTES:

• Kentucky leads the all-time series with LSU 84-25, including a 42-5 mark in Lexington.

• The Cats are 1-1 in overtime this season. UK lost 87-85 in overtime at Arkansas on January 14.

• During its last 11 games, UK has shot 73 percent at the line. The Cats were 20 of 26 on Saturday.

• Randle's 15 rebounds were one shy of his career-high set in the season-opener against UNC Asheville.

• UK returns to action Thursday at Rupp Arena against Arkansas. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports and recruiting for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for Scout since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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