By Gary Hermann
Led by strong play from their starting forwards, UK came back from an 11-point deficit in the first half to beat Belmont University 93-80.
Belmont finished the game 11-of-30 from beyond the arc after shooting 7-of-16 from distance in the first half.
Belmont senior Drew Windler hit four three-pointers before senior guard Jarrod Polson hit UK’s first with 8:17 left in the first half.
UK was down 11 when head coach John Calipari called a timeout at the 8:59 mark. Calipari came out of that timeout with a backcourt of Polson and freshman guard Dominique Hawkins.
“We had to go to Jarrod and Dominique to get the energy we needed in the game,” Calipari said.
They both played over 20 minutes. Freshman guard Andrew Harrison picked up two fouls in quick succession during the first half and staying in foul trouble for much of the game. Harrison finished with four fouls and seven points in 20 minutes of play.
The Cats took their first lead of the game with 16:22 left in the second half on a layup by freshman guard Aaron Harrison.
UK weathered Belmont’s initial three point barrage to come out on top.
“We guarded it well enough,” Calipari said. “We kind of got into their legs a little bit.”
Helping the Cats get back into the game was the frontcourt play of freshman forward Julius Randle and sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein.
Once they took the lead, UK put the struggles of the first half behind them and got into a rhythm.
“It’s really just about being accountable to each other and being a really good team and jelling together,” Polson said.
Free-throw shooting has been an issue for the Cats this season, but UK made 26-of-36 from the charity stripe against Belmont.
The Bruins could not find an answer for Randle and sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein. Both made 8-of-10 baskets from the floor.
Belmont head coach Rick Byrd said the big difference in the game was Randle.
“He’s so strong that when our guys foul him, he doesn’t even notice,” Byrd said.
Randle scored a career-high 29 points and added 10 rebounds on the way to his ninth double-double of the season. Both were game highs. He finished 13-for-19 at the line. He fouled out after playing 28 minutes.
Calipari was happy with the way Randle played.
“He got up and down the floor,” Calipari said. “We put him in different positions. I love that he made a jump shot.”