By Nick Gray | UK basketball beat writer
Jabari Parker’s NCAA Tournament life was at the mercy of Mercer University.
Andrew Wiggins was knocked out of the pecking order by Stanford University.
Julius Randle is one of a few highly-touted freshmen still alive in the NCAA Tournament, and he is a big part of why 8-seed UK is in the Sweet 16.
Hours after the University of Kansas was upset by Stanford, UK advanced to the Sweet 16 on the shoulders of one of Randle’s most complete games. Randle recorded 13 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high seven assists.
“He is a grown man and he comes really, really hard,” said Wichita State University head coach Gregg Marshall. “I was disappointed on our work on the glass, but that’s what they do.”
In two NCAA Tournament games, Randle has averaged 16 points and 12.5 rebounds, separating himself from freshmen across the country.
Duke University lost Friday in its first game. Parker scored 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting and added four turnovers. The Blue Devils’ loss affected Parker to the point that he called his freshman season “incomplete.”
Syracuse University lost in the round of 32, with freshman guard Tyler Ennis playing all 40 minutes. He scored 19 points, but they came on 21 shots and 33 percent shooting.
Among other highly-ranked freshmen, Kansas center Joel Embiid sat out the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and Indiana University forward Noah Vonleh did not reach the postseason. Aside from Randle, only University of Arizona forward Aaron Gordon and UK guard James Young are still alive among DraftExpress’ Top 8 NBA-ready freshmen.
Randle’s longevity is more impressive considering where he and the Cats were a few weeks ago.
“I didn’t do a great job with him,” Calipari said. “I didn’t define how he needed to play.”
But with the team’s newfound success comes an improved assist-to-turnover ratio for Randle.
Randle has almost twice as many turnovers as assists this season, but that statistic has changed for the better over the last five games (nine assists to eight turnovers).
“Just seeing us getting better each game is encouraging in itself,” Randle said. “And I know that I have teammates, that when a challenge presents itself, we will rise to the challenge.”