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UK would not have been in position to win if not for Julius Randle

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Without Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison's season -- and probably his college career -- ends on Saturday night. The same could surely be said for plenty more UK players, but Harrison's the man of the moment, the hour, the next 48 hours.

Let's not forget what and who got Kentucky to that spot for that shot.

The shot -- ohmygodohmygod the shot -- was of course ridiculous. An all-timer. A shake-you-from-your-seat decision that rocked two states and millions around the country. This game and that ending was that terrific. Go ahead and put that one on the March perma-reel (right alongside Harrison's gutsy make to beat Michigan in the Elite Eight) in CBS and Turner's NCAA Tournament highlight package.

Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 73. Aaron, you're an all-time legend at Kentucky no matter what happens Monday night.

And you should thank Julius for helping make it possible.

"We expect that from him," Dakari Johnson said. "If he doesn't play like that, we can't reach our goal."

Kentucky's win didn't just come down to Harrison's shot and Randle's play, but they're the two biggest factors. Most attention rightfully will go to the ending, but this space is about giving the man who is The Man for this team some deserved attention for keeping Kentucky in the game.

Keeping Kentucky's season alive. Through all the melodrama of this season, Randle's been unshakable.

"He is our rock," Marcus Lee said of Randle.

With the anchor down low, and with Alex Poythress stepping up in a substantial way off the bench, Kentucky had only four turnovers. They were disciplined against a team that defines discipline.

But it was scary for a minute there when Randle tweaked his ankle midway through the first half and had to leave the game. He said afterward in the locker room he never thought even for a second the twist would mean he'd miss much time, but he did have to run out the pain in the alleyway that leads to the bowels of the stadium. Shortly after that, he was back in the game and owning the block by getting there with force and finesse; drawing contact and getting Kentucky within striking distance again.

"Off the dribble I could get what I wanted," Randle said. "When things like that are going, I can pick my spots."

Only twice this season has Randle failed to reach double digits in either points or rebounds.

Julius Randle and Aaron Harrison embrace after Harrison's miracle winner. (USATSI)

"He's so consistent in the way he plays," Willie Cauley-Stein said.

Randle, who averages a double-double (15.1 points, 10.7 rebounds), finished with 16 points and five boards in 27 minutes. If you can, watch the tape of the game again. He is a dynamic demon with the ball in his hands, whether two, five or 10 feet out. He's lived up to the hype -- and it was considerable coming into the season. I think some of that gets lost, because he's been so solid for so long. It's been a thrill to watch Randle play college basketball, and we'll get one more game of it, most likely.

"I'm definitely not satisfied," Randle said. "We have one more game to go. We have been through a lot this year and we deserve to reward ourselves and go out there and play hard and give it all we got. So definitely not satisfied. Playing in my hometown, that really doesn't mean anything. I mean, the atmosphere was crazy. Coach told us to go out there and just soak it in at first, and then just worry about what's going on on the court. So it was crazy and it was fun."

Randle's good for three, four, five or six plays per game that clearly demonstrate he's playing at a level that's just not fair. He's ready for the NBA. And behind him, or through him -- he's basically acted as an engine -- Kentucky's in a spot to win its second title in three years. Kentucky won on the back of a freak frosh big man in 2012, with Anthony Davis. The components of that team and this team are very different, except that Randle's role has come to replicate Davis'.

Harrison deserves the fame and glory, but Randle is just as responsible for Saturday night's outcome.

 
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