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Originally published December 25, 2013 at 8:41 PM | Page modified December 25, 2013 at 8:55 PM

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Freshman Julius Randle leads the way for Kentucky

High-scoring Kentucky freshman Julius Randle is striving to improve and be a team leader. The Wildcats host defending NCAA champion Louisville on Saturday.

Lexington Herald-Leader and The Associated Press

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Julius Randle had just scored a career-high 29 points.

“I got to step up,” said the Kentucky freshman, sitting in a director’s chair on a raised stage against a back wall of Rupp Arena, media all around.

Randle had snagged 10 rebounds for his ninth double-double in a dozen games.

“I’ve got to do better,” said the 6-foot-9 forward.

Kentucky had rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit to defeat visiting Belmont 93-80 Saturday, in large part because of Randle’s muscle and determination and physical skill.

“It’s the time of the season where there are no more excuses,” he said.

Final exams are over. It is also Louisville week for the 18th-ranked Wildcats. The defending NCAA champion Cardinals, ranked No. 6, visit Rupp Arena on Saturday. So do the CBS cameras. So does much of the college-basketball world, peering in for a good, hard look.

Kentucky, which has a freshman class so talented the team was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press media preseason poll, is 9-3.

The Wildcats have no embarrassing losses. They have no eye-popping victories. They have a team full of talent and immaturity, skill and inconsistency, flashes of brilliance mixed with periods of puzzlement.

“We’ve still got things we’ve got to get better at,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

As for the highly touted Harrison twins, Aaron has been more up than down and Andrew’s struggles continue.

Last weekend, Belmont coach Rick Byrd said, “The big difference in the game was Julius Randle. We couldn’t stop him from making it except by fouling him. He’s so strong, our guys fouled him and he doesn’t even notice.

“I felt like we did all we could, we just have no bulk inside to match (him) inside. You need bulk and ability to move laterally against a guy who can play like him. Length and size help also. We are 0 for 3 in that category.”

Few teams can deal with Randle inside. And it is not as if this is something he doesn’t already know. It’s a matter of exploiting it.

“It’s time to step up and take on leadership,” he said.

Coming out of a timeout, Randle was the one clapping his hands, getting down in a stance and showing some intensity.

“That’s a big thing,” Randle said. “Coach wants us to bring energy to the team so if we see a guy with his head down, any of us, we’re checking ourselves. We’re not doing that (getting down) because bad calls are going to happen, we’re going to make bad plays and we’re going to make mistakes.

“But you can’t let that affect the team and bring the energy down. You have to continue to have great body language and play hard.”

With Louisville on the horizon, was Saturday’s showing against Belmont a step forward?

“Me, personally, I feel like I got a little better,” Randle said. “But there’s so much I can work on.”

Hawaii defeats Oregon State

HONOLULU – Isaac Fotu scored 17 points as Hawaii beat Oregon State 79-73 in the fifth-place game of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday.

Garrett Nevels scored 16 points, Christian Standhardinger had 15 and Brandon Spearman added 14 for the Rainbow Warriors (9-3). Spearman also grabbed 10 rebounds and Keith Shamburger chipped in with nine points, 10 assists and six rebounds.

Roberto Nelson scored 24 points for the Beavers (7-4) and Devon Collier added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Oregon State made 17 turnovers, leading to 22 Hawaii points. The Rainbow Warriors’ nine turnovers led to 10 Oregon State points.

Meanwhile, DeAndre Kane scored 23 points as 14th-ranked Iowa State defeated Boise State 70-66 for the Diamond Head Classic championship.

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