Three things from Kentucky’s 75-63 win over visiting Illinois State on Monday night:
1. Thank goodness Tyler Ulis’ injury is not that bad
The Cats got to see what life is like without their starting sophomore point guard. It wasn’t pretty. Isaiah Briscoe turned the basketball over three times on the Cats first three possessions. He ended up with five turnovers on the night. Jamal Murray turned it over four times, often on wild drives to the basket that either ended up giving the ball to the other team or missing a circus shot. Murray made just two of his six two-point attempts.
Ulis tried. Just because he was on the bench in street clothes, thanks to a hyperextended elbow suffered in Friday’s win over South Florida, didn’t mean the Chicago native couldn’t participate. He was yelling and coaching and getting into it. Problem was Ulis was doing all this from the bench.
“Without Tyler, it’s obvious we're not the same team,” John Calipari said. “I mean, unless you were watching another game, we're not the same team. But it still doesn't mean that we shouldn’t play hard and guys shouldn’t battle and fight for balls. We got beat to everything in the first half.”
As for Ulis’ health, Calipari said that the point guard will try to practice Wednesday in Los Angeles before Thursday night’s game at UCLA.
2. Where for art thou Skal?
Skal Labissiere, Kentucky’s freshman center, played just 16 minutes, mainly because he took just one shot (a miss) and grabbed just two rebounds (neither on the offensive end). Labissiere was a non-factor, so much so that John Calipari sat his center for the final seven minutes of the game.
The 16 minutes were a season-low for the freshman. He was coming off a 17-point, four-rebound game at South Florida. Without Ulis, did Kentucky not try to get the ball to Labissiere?
“No, we tried to,.” said Calipari. “He couldn't catch it. We were trying to go to him. As a matter of fact, I told guys, if he's open and you don't throw it to him, you're coming out. Think about that. That's where he is right now and it's OK. I mean, he's not figured some of this stuff out. He's not figured how to play lower than the other guy. He's not figured out that I got to move my feet and quit grabbing people. But that's okay. And he is a really, really good player who is behind.
“The good news is we have Alex and Marcus. And if he's not playing well, we can still win. As we just try to make sure he's getting better and better.”
3. Marcus Lee gets the message
Calipari wasn’t happy with his junior forward after the South Florida game. In fact, Cal was so unhappy he didn’t start Lee on Monday night. Alex Poythress was in the starting lineup. Lee was on the bench. He apparently didn’t appreciate the view.
By night’s end, the California native had turned in a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. Lee was six-of-eight from the floor. Lee had seven of Kentucky’s 12 offensive rebounds. He also blocked two shots.
“He was great today,” Calipari said. “Boy was he good. If Marcus Lee doesn't play, we lose. Because I had to get Skal out and I had to get Alex out. I tried to play Derek (Willis) and, again, you see him in that isolation, having to guard the ball, he’s struggling.”
“You either have to figure a way to figure it out or stand back,” Lee said afterward. “That’s not something I like to do. So I definitely got that message.”
It was Lee’s second double-double of the season. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds in Kentucky’s win over Duke in the Champions Classic.
Kentucky men’s basketball next five games
Dec. 3 @UCLA (9:00/ESPN)
Dec. 9 Eastern Kentucky (7:00/ESPN2)
Dec. 12 Arizona State (3:15/ESPN)
Dec. 19 vs. Ohio State (3:30/CBS)
Dec. 26 Louisville (Noon/CBS)