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Ashley Scoby: Lee just the latest Wildcat to prove he can step up when he's needed most

Marcus Lee has been compared to a pogo stick. And rightfully so, with his impressive vertical leap that makes put-back dunks look like he’s playing on a six-foot goal. But Lee could also be compared to the kid on the pogo stick – full of boundless energy that pops up at a moment’s notice.

We’ve seen Lee do this in the NCAA tournament last year. He had barely played in Kentucky’s post-season games, yet came through against Michigan and scored 10 points seemingly out of nowhere, mostly on his signature put-back dunks.

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He did more of the same Tuesday night against Vanderbilt, when Kentucky needed a burst of energy the most.

Although Kentucky had led for the entire game, a nagging Vanderbilt team had continued to hang around past halftime. The Commodores were down 33-26 at the break, but had closed to within 35-30 before Lee took over.

With just more than 15 minutes remaining, Aaron Harrison ran out on the fast break and passed ahead to Trey Lyles, who missed a tough shot in the paint in traffic. But Lee was there for clean-up duty, and put Kentucky ahead 37-30 after his offensive rebound and basket.

About 40 seconds later, Harrison lobbed to Lee for a slam and the 39-30 lead.

Reserve big man Marcus Lee provided a much needed offensive spurt in the Vandy game (UK Athletics Photo)

Reserve big man Marcus Lee provided a much needed offensive spurt in the Vandy game (UK Athletics Photo)

And with 13:45 remaining in the second half, Lee grabbed another offensive rebound and put-back to give the Wildcats a double-digit lead at 41-31.

“It’s just a tremendous feeling knowing you can help your teammates with whatever they need help with,” Lee said.

He finished with seven points off 3-4 shooting from the field, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal – all within 12 minutes of play (five minutes in the second half, where he scored six of his seven points).

“He was terrific,” said head coach John Calipari about Lee. “What I was afraid of at the end of the game is that they were going to foul him. I didn’t want to put him on the foul line. … That’s why I didn’t put him in at the end.”

Lee had made one of his two free throws in the first half, but is 5 of 17 from the line this season.

“Look, your free throw shooting is a hundred times better, but I don’t want to put you in this position,” Calipari told Lee towards the end of the game.

And that was okay. Because Lee had given what he needed to give – a remarkably efficient output and a burst of energy when Kentucky needed it.

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Even when the Wildcats are struggling, it seems that there is always at least one player who can produce when it’s needed most.

“I think that what makes them the best team in the country is they can have guys have off nights,” said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. “Their margin for error is quite substantial … They just have weapons.”

Some of those weapons, like Lee, have a “sense” for when they’re needed, and can produce seemingly on a whim.

Lee, after all, is also a McDonald’s All-American, and although he only plays 12.8 minutes a game this season, he squeezes a lot into a limited time (2.9 points a game, 3.4 rebounds per game, and is fourth on the team in blocks this season).

“I can definitely sense sometimes when the team needs it and I have to do a whole lot more than what I usually do,” Lee said. “You can kind of sense what’s happening and you can put in what’s needed.”

Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a sports writer for KyForward.com. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com and kysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will join Sports Illustrated magazine as a summer intern in June.

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