The nation’s top-ranked team displayed plenty of flaws without its leader Monday night.
No. 1 Kentucky (7-0) defeated Illinois State, 75-63, at Rupp Arena as sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis (hyperextended elbow) looked on from the bench.
Trouble spots included turnovers (12 combined from the three starting guards), free throws (63 percent on 46 attempts) and a disappearing act from freshman forward Skal Labissiere, who started the game but finished with just two points and two rebounds.
The turning point: Leading 63-56 with 3:37 remaining, Alex Poythress executed a nice spin into the lane for a layup. Less than a minute later, the senior dunked to make the lead 11.
MVP: Marcus Lee. The junior was held out of the starting lineup but provided a steadying second-half influence. Lee (12 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass) extended a couple of late possessions, and his efficient scoring (13 points on 6-of-8 shooting) was much needed on a night when Jamal Murray, Charles Matthews and Labissiere combined to shoot 4-for-16.
Memorable moment: With 12:35 remaining in the second half, Murray skied for a layup when Illinois State freshman Roland Griffin slammed into him from behind. Peeved, Murray immediately stood up to get in Griffin’s face, but his teammates shoved him away, forcing him to take a long “cool down” lap around the half court.
Starting lineup: Isaiah Briscoe, Jamal Murray, Charles Matthews, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere
Off the bench: Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Marcus Lee and Mychal Mulder
Cleaning up the glass: Kentucky needed 1:59 to score its first point, a made free throw by Poythress, and 3:38 to score its first field goal, a reverse layup by Murray in transition … The Wildcats did not lead until a Lee free throw put them up, 16-15, at the 10:42 mark of the first half … Illinois State is now 8-2 against current SEC teams … Wildcats players surprised coach John Calipari’s wife, Ellen Calipari, with a plate of brownies for her birthday.
What’s next: No. 1 Kentucky at UCLA — Thursday, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)