The Kentucky Wildcats struggled at times against the Illinois State Redbirds, but they held on to a double-digit lead to end the game 75-63.
Right from the tip, it was obvious that Tyler Ulis was missed more than anyone would have thought. There wasn't much of a flow offensively and there was a lot more one-on-one play from the guards instead of offensive sets. What we got was an uneven game with plenty of mistakes and a very angry John Calipari.
Good Isaiah/Bad Isaiah
Isaiah Briscoe started the game as the point guard and immediately starting forcing things. It looked as if he wanted to insert himself as the alpha dog which led to three early turnovers and an early lead for the visiting team. But he did end the game with 18 points, seven rebounds, but only three assists and five turnovers. He also fouled out of the game.
Marcus Lee Returns
Calipari was steaming mad at Lee after a poor performance against South Florida. Cal also pointed out that it was Lee's laziness that led to Tyler Ulis being injured because he didn't dive for a loose ball. There wasn't anything lazy about Lee's game tonight as he was one of the most active players on the floor. He started off on the bench but ended the night with 13 points and 12 rebounds and regained his starting spot at the start of the second half. It was a valuable lesson for Lee that needs to stick going forward.
The Amazing Disappearing Skal
Kentucky needs Skal Labisierre to get better and quit with these no-show games if this team wants to reach another Final Four. Skal was ineffective with 2 points, two rebounds, one block, and three fouls. He didn't show any energy on the floor and didn't even look like he wanted to fight for anything under the basket. He looked lethargic and out of it.
To his defense, the guards didn't do much to get him involved. There was too much street ball by Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe and Skal was left under the basket trying to gain position. Kara Lawson of ESPN astutely pointed out that Skal missed Ulis more than anyone on the court. That being said, Skal can fight for offensive rebounds and create his own shot that way. He didn't do that and played only 16 minutes because of it.
I was very happy with the play of Dominique Hawkins and Charles Matthews. While they didn't light up the box score, their hustle on defense and on the offensive boards paid dividends for their team. They led the team in deflected passes and hustle plays. I think Charles has earned the position of sixth man off the bench or maybe even a starting spot. And it was awesome to see Hawkins make an impact.
Free Throw Woes
29-46. 63%. Enough said.
Alex Being Alex
He did his thing as the mop up man with nine points and seven rebounds. He had a couple of athletic moves and some nice dunks. I still think there is more to Alex and it is just a matter of time before we see it.
Wrapping it All Up
Illinois State is not a bad team and they played a helluva game. They took Maryland to the wire earlier in the year and have played a very tough early schedule. But Kentucky had chances to pull away early in the second half, but turnovers or lapses on defense allowed the Redbirds to stay in it.
We missed Tyler Ulis. Hopefully, he will be ready to go against UCLA. And Issac Humphries too. Not sure why he didn't play with Skal struggling so much, but one has to think that foot injury is still bothering him. The 'Cats will need all hands on deck for the first true road test of the season on Thursday.