Source: USA TODAY
LEXINGTON, KY. — The University of Kentucky basketball team’s 500th win at Rupp Arena wasn’t a work of art, won’t rank in the top few hundred most thrilling games in the rich history of the 37-year-old building, but it wasn’t a loss. So that’s something.
After letting a second straight inferior opponent hang around far too long on their home court, the Wildcats won an ugly one, 81-63, Wednesday evening against Eastern Michigan. The Eagles (5-1) committed 31 fouls and fourth-ranked Kentucky (6-1), which shot 40 free throws, coughed up 20 turnovers.
The Cats led by only three points at halftime and by 12 with eight minutes to go. But sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein sparked UK and freshman forward Julius Randle came alive after the break. Cauley-Stein had season highs in points (15) and blocked shots (seven) and grabbed eight rebounds in 25 minutes.
Randle got in early foul trouble and played just seven scoreless minutes – with only one rebound – in the first half. His double-double streak looked dead. It wasn’t. He had 14 points and nine rebounds in the final 20 minutes to record his school record-tying seventh consecutive double-double to start the season. It matched Jim Andrews’ streak to open the 1971-72 season.
The Wildcats, who hit 28 of those free throws, also got 22 points and seven rebounds from freshman shooting guard Aaron Harrison. Rookie center Dakari Johnson had 10 points and seven boards in just 10 minutes off the bench. Darell Combs kept Eastern Michigan close most of the game, hitting 9 of 19 shots, including 3 of 6 from deep, for a game-high 23 points.
Kentucky coach John Calipari can’t be pleased with the rash of turnovers – five apiece by Randle, point guard Andrew Harrison and swingman James Young. Harrison had eight points and three assists; Young had six points, six rebounds and four assists.
It wasn’t pretty, but for the second time in three nights, the Wildcats avoided just their 63rd loss all-time at Rupp Arena.