GAME NOTES: After falling from the top spot in the latest AP poll, the fourth- ranked Kentucky Wildcats are expected to take their frustrations out on the Texas-Arlington Mavericks at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night as part of the Keightley Classic.
UTA has been inconsistent to start the season, the team sitting at an even 2-2. The Mavericks opened with a 116-87 loss at Boise State, but followed that up with back-to-back wins at home against Samford (88-75) and Howard Payne (111-64). They closed out their three-game stint in front of the hometown faithful on Nov. 15 with an 83-73 loss to Cleveland State.
Kentucky came in to the campaign with a preseason No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1995, but after winning its first two games, it dropped a marquee matchup to No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 12 in Chicago, 78-74. The Wildcats got back on track on Sunday night by easily dismissing Robert Morris, 87-49, in a revenge game from last season's NIT.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between Texas-Arlington and Kentucky on the hardwood.
UTA dug itself a big hole in its last game, trailing Cleveland State by 15 points at the half, and even though it was able to shrink the deficit to six later, it could not complete the comeback. Reger Dowell led the effort with 25 points on a busy night both from 3-point range (5-of-13) and the foul line (8- of-11). Brandon Edwards logged a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds to go with two blocks, while Lonnie McClanahan netted 18 points but also committed five turnovers. The Mavericks' dreadful shooting percentage the last time out (.328) has not been indicative of their season as a whole, as they are draining nearly 46 percent of their field goal tries for 89.8 points per game. Dowell (26.0 ppg) is the nation's ninth-leading scorer on the young season, thanks largely to his hot start from beyond the arc (17-of-41). Edwards (17.5 ppg, 11.3 rpg is a nightly double-double threat, while McClanahan (14.3 ppg) and Vincent Dillard (10.5 ppg) round out the unit's double-digit scorers.
The Wildcats barely broke a sweat in their 38-point triumph on Sunday night, as they outshot Robert Morris from the field, 49.1 percent to 23.2 percent, and held a decisive rebounding advantage as well (56-33). Aaron Harrison had the best performance of his young career with 28 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor and a perfect 10-of-10 from the foul line, while fellow freshmen Julius Randle (10 points, 15 rebounds) and James Young (10 points) were also impressive. Willie Cauley-Stein came off the bench to register seven points, 13 boards and four blocks. Its one loss aside, Kentucky has been predictably dominant otherwise, boasting huge margins in both scoring (+24.0) and rebounding (+20.3). Much of the team's success can be attributed to the play of Randle, who has lived up to the hype as one of the most talented freshmen in the country by averaging 20.5 points and 14.5 rebounds per game, although he has been plagued by 15 turnovers. Aaron Harrison scores 14.3 points per game, while his twin brother Andrew (10.0 ppg) joins him out on the perimeter. Young (11.3 ppg), Cauley-Stein (5.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Alex Poythress (7.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) are also important assets to the deep squad.
The question of whether the Wildcats can compete with the nation's elite will have to wait for another day, as they will have no trouble dismissing a shaky UTA squad.