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December 5, 2013

Randle ready for homecoming game against Baylor

There will be friends and family in attendance, so many that Julius Randle can't keep track.

His mother is keeping count for the Kentucky freshman, who knows only that there will be plenty of familiar faces in the crowd when his Wildcats face Baylor Friday in Arlington, Texas, just outside his Dallas hometown.

"I'd say it's a dream of mine, just to be able to come back to my home state, city and be able to play in front of family and friends," Randle said Wednesday, in advance of the Wildcats' trip to his home state.

This week has been all about Randle. He's made plans to meet up with family -- an ice storm could change those -- and he's been collecting tickets from teammates so that he can pack as many of his people as possible into AT&T Stadium.

The homecoming is all about Randle.

The game is not. None of them are. He's still getting used to that.

It's not that Randle has struggled. Eight games into his college career, he's putting up Freshman of the Year -- heck, Player of the Year -- numbers, averaging 18.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game for No. 3 Kentucky (7-1).

And it's not that Randle is selfish. Always an adept passer, he's as quick to celebrate a teammate's bucket as his own, and a quick dish out of a double team seems to please him as much as any bucket of his own.

Still, he's not immune to growing pains as defenses adjust to him, often throwing two and three defenders his way.

"In high school they did it, but in high school I was just so much bigger and stronger and faster than guys, so you could kind of fight through it," Randle said. "But at the college level, you've got guys who are just as strong, just as big as you. So it's a different level, it's a different challenge, but nothing I can't handle."

It's hard to say Randle is slumping.

But it's easy to see he's adjusting as opponents throw new looks his way.

Over Kentucky's first five games, he averaged 20.8 points and 13.6 rebounds per game on 61.1 percent shooting.

In three games since, he's averaged 13.7 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent. That includes a 12-point, nine-rebound outing in Sunday's win against Providence that marked the first time this season he'd failed to record a double-double.

It's hardly cause for alarm. But it is a sign of adjustment, of learning.

And what has Randle learned as he's become a focal point of double- and triple-teams?

"Trust my teammates," Randle said. "Trust in my teammates. Patience. Just stuff like that… . You know, it's not high school where you can just do whatever you want. You just have to be patient and trust your teammates."

Randle is showing signs of developing that trust.

He had a season-high-tying four assists in a win against Providence that arguably was Kentucky's best overall performance of the season. On one second-half play, he made a strong move against collapsing defenders, then kicked out to a wide-open Dominique Hawkins for a three-point play.

And sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein no doubt has been a beneficiary of defensive attention to Randle. He's averaging 13.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over his past five games.

Randle's strong play also is generating opportunities for Aaron Harrison and James Young on the perimeter.

"It's a great feeling," Randle said. "I'm all about winning. That's why I came here: to win a national championship. Just to see those guys step up and make plays, it's a big relief for me. It's also encouraging for me because I know they're growing, so it's only going to help me. It's only going to help them too, and it's going to help our team."

Randle doesn't need a lot of help.

But John Calipari wants the freshman to narrow his focus. He wants Randle to think more about effort and less about the particulars of plays.

"The only thing I said: Quit trying to be perfect," Calipari said. "You're trying to act like you should make every play. Just stop. Just play harder than the other guy. Just worry about that. Don't worry about anything else. 'I can't make this shot. I missed that shot.' So what? Doesn't matter. But he's doing fine."

On Friday, he's hoping to show the home folks just how fine.

Randle is familiar with a number of Baylor's players via the Texas AAU circuit, and he knows the Bears will provide "a good challenge" with their length and athleticism. He doubts even that will prevent Baylor from running multiple defenders his way.

"If they play me one-on-one, I'd be surprised," he said. "That would be Christmas."

He'll likely have to settle for being home near the holiday.

Randle knew when Kentucky recruited him that he'd have the opportunity to play a game in the Dallas area, and he's been looking forward to it.

But he's also focused on fine-tuning his game to help his team make a return trip.

As excited as Randle is to be home this week, he wants even more to be there the first week in April, when AT&T hosts the NCAA Final Four.

"Very important," Randle said of the prospect of returning. "It's the most important thing this year."
No. 3 KENTUCKY (7-1)
Coach: John Calipari (130-27 in fifth season at Kentucky; 533-165 in 22nd season overall)
Last game: Beat Providence 79-65
Roster | Stats
No. 20 BAYLOR (7-1)
Coach: Scott Drew (185-139 in 11th season at Baylor; 205-150 in 12th season overall)
Last game: Beat Hardin-Simmons 104-59
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Andrew Harrison Fr. 6-6/215 10.4 2.0
G Aaron Harrison Fr. 6-6/218 13.8 3.0
F Willie Cauley-Stein So. 7-0/244 9.6 8.4
F James Young Fr. 6-6/215 13.0 3.5
F Julius Randle Fr. 6-9/250 18.1 12.6
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Kenny Chery Jr. 5-11/180 10.8 2.3
G Gary Franklin Sr. 6-2/190 8.1 2.1
C Isaiah Austin So. 7-1/225 10.5 4.9
F Royce O'Neale Jr. 6-6/220 7.8 3.5
F Cory Jefferson Sr. 6-9/220 13.5 8.8
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: AT&T Stadium (80,000), Arlington, Texas
TV: ESPN (Jon Sciambi play-by play, Fran Fraschilla analyst)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst, Matt Jones sideline); XM 190/Sirius 93
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Kentucky by 3.5

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 7-1
At natural sites: Kentucky leads 3-0
Coaches' records: Calipari 1-1 vs. Baylor; Drew 1-1 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Baylor 64, Kentucky 55 (Dec. 1, 2012, Lexington, Ky.)
Pierre Jackson's 17 points led five Bears in double figures as Baylor handed John Calipari his first loss at Rupp Arena as Kentucky's head coach. Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin combined for 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks as the Bears held the Wildcats to 29.6 percent shooting. UK, which got 17 points, six rebounds and five assists from Archie Goodwin, shot 4 for 22 from three-point range. Alex Poythress added 13 points for Kentucky. Nerlens Noel had eight points, 16 rebounds and six steals.

Game Storylines
1. Length Wise: Among Kentucky's opponents so far, only Michigan State comes close to Baylor in length and athleticism, and though the Bears aren't as complete as the Spartans, they probably match up even better with Kentucky's height and wingspan. Cory Jefferson ranks fifth in Baylor history in blocked shots, and his career 1.28 blocks-per-game average is sixth in school history. Isaiah Austin is even more adept at shot-swatting. His career average of 1.95 blocks per game is third in school history, and he's averaging 3.3 per game this season.

2. Texas-Sized: Friday's game, part of a doubleheader with the UK and Baylor women, will be played in cavernous AT&T Stadium, home to the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. The plan is to have fans sitting on only one side of the stadium (it will create a better picture for the TV cameras aimed at that side), and fan turnout could be limited. Though the official capacity of the stadium is 80,000, it's being listed at about 18,000 for this event. And the threat of inclement weather could reduce the number of fans who make the trip.

3. New Look: Both the Kentucky men's and women's teams and the Baylor women will sport alternate uniforms for Friday's games, courtesy of Nike, which outfits those three programs. The Baylor men are adidas-sponsored. Nike's alternate UK uniforms will feature chrome lettering on the jersey and shorts. The Wildcat men's uniforms will feature eight stars across the back, one for each of the program's NCAA Tournament titles.

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