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January 18, 2014

Battered on boards, Cats find other ways to win

The bully wore orange.

Tennessee came to Rupp Arena on Saturday and was the more physical team, the better rebounding team, was the sort of punishing squad No. 13 Kentucky usually is and almost never faces.

And yet the Wildcats walked away winners.

"We have mental toughness and physical toughness as well," UK guard Andrew Harrison said after the Cats' 74-66 win. "They're huge inside, and we got outrebounded, but we found other ways to win."

They were different ways for Kentucky (13-4, 3-1 Southeastern Conference).

The Cats came into Saturday outrebounding opponents by 13 per game, but Tennessee (11-6, 2-2) finished with a 39-24 rebounding edge. The Volunteers had 20 second-chance points to Kentucky's 10 and outscored UK in the paint 38-26.

Those are areas in which the Cats typically dominate.

"We usually do, but today we kinda lost in that department," said forward Julius Randle, who had 18 points but a season-low two rebounds.

So Kentucky stepped out of character.

The Cats -- a 65.9 percent free-throw shooting team entering the game -- made 23 of 24 at the foul line and didn't miss at the line until 32.5 seconds remained, when Aaron Harrison misfired on the front end of a one-and-one.

"I don't know if it's ever been done, but we went in the pool and we put on those pool baskets, and we got them to get down and just start making them for the mental part of it," a straight-faced John Calipari said. "It worked. And if you believe that, I've got great land to sell."

The atypical free-throw shooting was part mental -- "It's just focus," Andrew Harrison said -- and part a product of getting the right shooters at the line. The Harrison twins, Randle and Alex Poythress were the only Wildcats who shot free throws.

The sharp shooting didn't stop there.

Kentucky made 7 of 16 three-pointers, the second-most threes the Cats have made in a game this season.

"The biggest thing is we're not a team that's going to shoot 25 threes," Calipari said. "That's not who we are. We're a driving team. We're a post up team. We're a rebounding team. I want us to be a vicious defensive team so we can get out and run because we're fast. But if you jam us in, we will shoot threes."

Tennessee sagged off shooters to contend with Randle -- he scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half to help UK rally from a nine-point deficit to a 34-32 halftime lead -- and his teammates got clean looks.

"It's not an insult," said Andrew Harrison, who led all scorers with 26 points. "I mean, if you don't shoot well from the three-point line, what else are you going to do? We have great drivers and stuff on our team, so I think that's a smart thing to do. But shots fell today, and it's pretty hard to beat us when that happens."

Tennessee found that out as UK pulled away, leading by as many as 11 points in the second half.

With the Vols crowding Randle, Andrew Harrison took over, scoring 16 of his 26 after halftime. His ability to get in the lane and make plays got the Cats "over the hump," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said.

It didn't look like a typical Kentucky win.

But it looked just fine to the Wildcats.

"We just made tough plays," Randle said. "I think we played hard, played together as a team and made our free throws."


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