Kentucky guards show their potential in win over Louisville

Louisville had just taken a 52-51 lead on Chris Jones’ layup and foul. Julius Randle had to be subbed out for the second time due to cramps, and this time it didn’t look like he was returning.

Considering Randle had dominated the first half with 17 points and three rebounds, it looked like Kentucky was poised to struggle in the final 11 minutes.

The Wildcats’ perimeter group made sure that didn’t happen: Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and James Young combined for 46 points and led Kentucky to a 73-66 win over Louisville.

Randle was doing whatever he wanted in the first half, and it’s understandable that most didn’t have a ton of faith in the Kentucky guards to lead the Wildcats to victory. They had been inconsistent for the most part this season, and Randle was the guy Kentucky went to when it needed someone to bail it out. With him gone, John Calipari needed his guards to step up.

And they did.

The shooting numbers won’t look great (16 for 45 from the field, 3 for 12 from 3, 11 for 21 on free throws), but one has to look past that in order to see the impact the Harrison-Harrison-Young trio made in the final 20 minutes. Those three scored 25 of the Wildcats’ 30 second-half points -- including 14 points during a game-changing 15-4 run after Jones’ three-point play.

More importantly, they outplayed one of the best backcourts in the country in Russ Smith and Chris Jones. Going into the game, one of the biggest question was whether the Harrisons and Young could handle the speed and pressure of the Cardinals’ guards. While there were certainly some questionable passes (and the youth definitely showed with some decision-making down the stretch), Kentucky only turned it over 11 times, leading to 14 points off turnovers. The Wildcats forced Louisville to create offense in a half-court setting, and it didn’t work out well. Smith and Jones had to carry the load, and no one else stepped up.

Obviously, this bodes well for Kentucky going forward. Its all-freshman perimeter group matured and grew up in the second half. And we saw what the Wildcats have the ability to be in a couple months. Andrew Harrison can get into the lane whenever he wants, and his size enables him to finish at the rim. Aaron Harrison draws contact consistently, and his ability to knock down pull-up jumpers makes him a tough matchup. And Young brings perimeter shooting, and his length and size made him a factor on the glass (10 rebounds). Talent-wise, it’s among the best backcourts in the country, but the question has been whether they would mesh consistently and figure out their roles.

It seems they figured it out in the second half.

Was it a byproduct of Randle being out with an injury? Will it change with him back in the lineup? That remains to be seen. With that said, we’ve said all season that a Kentucky hitting on all cylinders is going to be a scary team. They weren’t quite perfect on Saturday afternoon, but the Wildcats’ guards showed why they’re such a promising group.

This is unquestionably a confidence-builder for Kentucky -- but most importantly, it’s a confidence-builder for the young perimeter players.

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