The time had come for the Kentucky Wildcats to shake off the loss to North Carolina. Rick Byrd and his three-point happy Belmont Bruins were in town to take on the Cats.
Before you could blink an eye and get comfortable the Bruins were living up to their reputation as they raced to an early 25-14 lead.
We all know what John Calipari and the coaching staff’s message had to be in the days and practices leading up to this game. First, Kentucky had to make sure they came out and played the way they were supposed to. Do what they do, as it were. Force Belmont, or anyone for that matter, to respond, react or adjust to them.
Second, it had to be driven home that the Bruins had gone to the Dean E. Smith Center and done what UK had been unable to do by beating the Tar Heels on their home floor. Granted, they had suffered bad road losses at South Dakota State and Denver. However they still needed to be taken seriously.
Yet, the young Wildcats’ sense of urgency wasn’t where it needed to be as they dug themselves quite a hole at home.
Tom Leach, the voice of the Wildcats, was calling Drew Windler’s name much more frequently than anyone was wanting to hear. The Bruins’ forward erupted for four first half three-pointers on his way to 21 points for the game.
Kentucky was able to wrestle the momentum back after getting down. It took a while and it wasn’t easy by any means as they still trailed 43-41 at the half.
Dominique Hawkins and Jarrod Polson brought some much-needed energy as Kentucky pulled away for a 93-80 victory. Aaron Harrison played well again stuffing the stat sheet with 23 points, six rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block. Willie Cauley-Stein had another very solid game too.
Kentucky was able to impose their will on the boards where they held a 38-24 advantage for the game.
The most welcome sight of all may have been Julius Randle returning to form. He put up 29 points and 10 boards in 28 minutes before fouling out.
Now the players and coaches can do what all UK fans have already been doing: look ahead to Louisville.
The defending champs roll into Rupp Arena in one week. Kentucky’s urgency will have to be higher than it’s ever been from the get go.