GAME NOTES: The Kentucky Wildcats continue their four-game homestand on Monday night, as they square off with the Cleveland State Vikings as part of the Keightley Classic.
Cleveland State has yet to win or lose back-to-back games this season on its way to a 3-2 record. The Vikings returned from a three-game road trip on Saturday to defeat Robert Morris, 87-74, and after this contest four of their next five games will be at home.
Kentucky came into the season as the nation's No. 1 team, but following a neutral-court loss to Michigan State on Nov. 12 in the Champions Classic (78-74), it promptly dropped from the top spot to No. 4. Regardless of their one loss versus a great MSU squad, the Wildcats are still in the midst of a strong start at 4-1. They most recently dismissed Texas-Arlington at home on Nov. 19, 105-76.
Kentucky defeated Cleveland State in the only previous meeting between the squads during the 2009 Cancun Challenge.
The Vikings fell behind Robert Morris 11-2 in the opening minutes of the game, but from their they had the game well in hand, as they carried a four-point lead into intermission and held a double-digit advantage for most of the second half. They shot greater than 51 percent from the field in the triumph and had a busy, efficient day at the free-throw line (34-of-44). Pacing six players in double figures was Bryn Forbes with 18 points, while Charlie Lee was hot on his heels with 17 points. Anton Grady (13 points), Trey Lewis (13), Jon Harris (11) and Sebastian Douglas (10) were all factors in the balanced win as well.
Cleveland State has gotten used to high scoring outputs this season (78.8 ppg) even with a modest field goal percentage (.421). Forbes is the unrivaled go-to scoring option with 19.6 points per game, and he drains nearly 47 percent of his six 3-point attempts per outing. Lee (12.8 ppg) and Lewis (12.6 ppg) also net in double figures, although Lewis is shooting a dreadful 26.4 percent from the field
Although the first half of their latest game was hotly-contested, the Wildcats pulled away after intermission to secure the 29-point win, as they shot 50.7 percent from the floor, drained 27-of-39 free-throw attempts and won the turnover battle, 16-8. James Young had the best game of his rookie season with 26 points on 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range, while fellow freshmen Julius Randle (22 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks), Andrew Harrison (15 points, six assists) and Marcus Lee (10 points, three blocks) also played very well. Willie Cauley-Stein tallied a double-double off the bench with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Kentucky's early-season domination can be easily explained with its astounding margins in terms of scoring (+25.0) and rebounding (+18.6). Randle has lived up to the billing as a top-flight recruit and then some, as he is posting 20.8 points and 13.6 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field. Young (14.2 ppg), Aaron Harrison (12.4 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (11.0 ppg, 3.6 apg) have also been big-time playmakers for the world-class freshmen crop, while Cauley-Stein (7.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg) brings a veteran presence to the floor.
Unlike this time last season, the Wildcats' young core appears to be firing on all cylinders, and at home against an inferior Cleveland State squad, they should have no problem moving to 5-1.