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Keith Taylor: Lee gets message, brings energy to court in UK’s win over Illinois State

 Marcus Lee had 13 points and had 12 rebounds in Kentucky's win over Illinois State Monday night

Marcus Lee had 13 points and 12 rebounds in UK’s win over Illinois State Monday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Marcus Lee got the message after missing his first start of the season.

Benched because of his poor performance in top-ranked Kentucky’s 84-63 win over South Florida last week, Lee gave the Wildcats a spark with 13 points and 12 rebounds in a 75-63 victory over Illinois State Monday night.

Lee started Kentucky’s first six games, but was replaced by Alex Poythress. Instead of getting down on himself, Lee took the move seriously and was determined to make an impact when given the opportunity.

“After having a couple bad games, you have to either figure it out or stand back and that’s not something I like to do,” Lee said. “I definitely got that message.”

Lee wasn’t “bitter” about not starting against the Redbirds.

“You have to support your team if you’re starting or coming off the bench because either way, it’s just the people starting — that’s all it is,” Lee said. “You can go in two minutes into the game or 30 seconds in the game, just as long as you’re ready.”

 Isaiah Briscoe blocks a shot Monday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Isaiah Briscoe blocks a shot Monday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 75, Illinois State 63

Kentucky coach John Calipari was pleased with the comeback performance by Lee, who started the second half.

“He was great today,” Calipari said. “Boy was he good. If Marcus Lee doesn’t play, we lose.”

Aside from his scoring and rebounding, Calipari liked the energy Lee brought to the floor on a night when the Wildcats struggled to get into a flow without starting point guard Tyler Ulis, who sat out because of an elbow injury. Lee’s contributions in the post also were significant, considering freshman center Skal Labissiere tallied just two points and three rebounds in 16 minutes.

“You got a player like Marcus Lee, who, if he’s to make it, it’s going to be on one thing — he’s an energy guy who can cover a bunch of positions and flies,” Calipari said. “You need that kind of player on your team. If he’s not playing with energy, you get what you have at South Florida. You have a guy that’s just out there and it’s like, well what did he do?”

In his performance against the Bulls last week, Calipari said Lee’s demeanor spoke volumes and wasn’t surprised by his lack of production on both ends of the floor.

“You have bags under your eyes, you can’t do it,” Calipari said. “You have sleepies in the corners, you can’t do it. You’ve got to prepare all day to come out to play with unbelievable energy.”

Lee understands his lack of energy will lead to more time on the bench and knows it’s not acceptable.

“I just have sleepy-looking eyes,” Lee said. “Can we just accept that? No, but he saw it early that I just mentally wasn’t there and that’s something I have to recognize early and try to fix. That’s something that we have to figure out, both me and him, and today I finally figured it out and got the job done.”

Calipari said the spirited play he expects from Lee will be enough to carry the junior forward to the level and Lee accepts the challenge.

“You hear it and you have to try to figure it out,” Lee said. “He’s trying to teach you as much as possible for the next level and he only speaks the truth. So once you figure that out and actually listen to a coach, then you just take it and run with it.”


* Isaiah Briscoe scored a career-high 18 points, collected seven rebounds and dished out three assists, while running the point guard position in the absence of Tyler Ulis. He settled into the role after committing three turnovers in the opening five minutes.

“I think I finished the game out after those three minutes,” Briscoe said. “I think I started to play well and forgot about the three turnovers and just continued to play basketball.”

* Ulis likely won’t practice today, but Calipari said his status for Thursday’s game at UCLA depends on whether or not he returns to practice Wednesday.

“If he can’t go, we’ll go as is,” he said. “We’ll play with what we have.”

* Junior Dominique Hawkins tied his career high with seven points and made five much-needed free throws in his most significant action of the season.

“The guy that changed the game was (Dominique Hawkins),” Calipari said. “Dom did what he did at the Michigan game a couple years ago. He went in and guarded that player and said. ‘I can do it.’ And then he made some free throws.”

Game tracker: Kentucky at UCLA, 9 p.m., Thursday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com

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