LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Julius Randle scored a career-high 29 points and led a second-half rally that pushed No. 19 Kentucky past stubborn Belmont 93-80 on Saturday.
A week after a season-worst performance in a loss at North Carolina, the 6-foot-9 freshman forward was 8 of 10 from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds. More importantly, he asserted himself late in the first half and throughout the second for the Wildcats (9-3), who found themselves in a battle against the team that upset the Tar Heels earlier this season.
Kentucky trailed until the 16:21 mark of the second half and constantly had to fight off challenges from the Bruins (8-5).
Aaron Harrison added 23 points for the Wildcats while 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein had 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
The Wildcats finished 32 of 58 from the field (55 percent), outrebounded the Bruins 42-25 and made 26 of 36 free throws.
Craig Bradshaw had 22 points while Drew Windler added 21 on five 3-pointers for the Bruins, who shot 47 percent from the field and were 11 of 30 from behind the arc but still lost their third straight and fourth in five.
Kentucky's week spent working on defense, free throw shooting and body language yielded some results as the Wildcats came up with timely stops and rebounds in the second half against upset-minded Belmont. While better free throw shooting was also critical in the outcome, their improved engagement made the biggest difference and helped them outscore the Bruins 52-34 in the paint.
Kentucky certainly needed all those areas to overcome and withstand Belmont.
The Bruins weren't awed by playing before 24,224 at Rupp Arena. They were coming off Tuesday night's 28-point loss at Denver that marked the low point since that signature win over the Tar Heels.
Belmont played the recent losing stretch without injured point guard Reece Chamberlain, whose return to the starting lineup restored normalcy and something of a swagger as the Bruins led 43-41 at halftime.
Windler set the tone with consecutive 3-pointers to open the game and had four of the Bruins' seven long-range baskets in the half. Caleb Chowbay added two 3s and Chamberlain had one for Belmont, which created 18 chances thanks to quick ball movement that Kentucky initially struggled to keep up with.
The strategy resulted in an 11-point lead over the Wildcats, who were cold for a stretch before clawing back into the game with help from the bench. Alex Poythress, Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins combined for 12 points overall but were more helpful in getting the ball to Randle and Cauley-Stein, whose seven combined points provided a 41-41 tie with 25 seconds left in the half before Belmont re-took the lead on Windler's free throws.
Harrison and Randle led Kentucky's comeback with 19 combined points in the first 10 minutes of the half for a 66-57 lead.