The Wildcats were pushed to the absolute limit against the Illinois State Redbirds, and Kentucky looked ready to do exactly what got them the #1 ranking in the first place; lose to an inferior team without their best guard.
The lack of Tyler Ulis hurt Kentucky early as Isaiah Briscoe turned the ball over three times in the early going as the temporary leader for the Wildcats. Briscoe would slowly control himself on offense and became comfortable in the spotlight.
The Redbirds were doing it all to this young team, including forcing turnovers, upping tempo, and causing Kentucky to shoot bad shots. Illinois State had everything right for the biggest upset in this wild season.
But Kentucky just had to get one thing right to get away with a victory. That one detail they missed in the first half came to life in the second: rebounding.
Kentucky was out-rebounded at halftime, but the Wildcats used an amazing performance on the offensive glass from Marcus Lee to win the battle overall 38-32. Lee grabbed 12 rebounds to go with his 13 points; his second double-double in his UK career.
Kentucky also saw the free-throw line a lot more than usual in this game. They went to the charity stripe 46 times, the second most attempts in the John Calipari era. The Wildcats, however, only hit 29 of those 46 attempts for 63 percent at the line. In later games the 'Cats will not see the stripe that much, so they must start hitting more consistently.
Kentucky did manage to win a tough game without their sophomore leader. The Wildcats will be heading west to face UCLA in Pauley Pavilion for the first time.
If Kentucky is without Ulis in a heated match up after Kentucky's brutal domination of UCLA in Brooklyn last year, the Wildcats could be in for a long night in Los Angeles.
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell- Akoon-Purcell became the X-factor for the Redbirds early as their biggest scoring threat. The senior finished with 22 points and six rebounds and has scored the most points against the Wildcats this season. Akoon-Purcell shot 9-20 for a game-high field goal attempts and makes.
Isaiah Briscoe- Briscoe struggled early with turnovers but made up for it by becoming Kentucky's best offensive threat. The small guard used his speed bursts to get to the rim and finish through contact. The freshmen had 18 points with seven rebounds and three assists.
Jamal Murray- Murray also made up for the lack of Ulis by running the offense when Briscoe got into foul trouble. Murray collected 16 points and five rebounds in a game where he managed to control tempo throughout.
Roland Griffin- Griffin may have fouled out but he put his mark on the game with fantastic shooting from the field. The freshman shot 7-10 for 14 points and three rebounds against the talent of Kentucky inside.
Marcus Lee- Lee could easily be the player of the game. The 6'9 junior had his second career double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Lee put his mark on the game late, coming up with offensive rebounds to help Kentucky secure a close game down the stretch.
#1 Kentucky at UCLA 12/3/15
UAB at Illinois State 12/5/15