The Kentucky Wildcats struggled to put away Illinois State Monday night before ultimately coming away with a 75-63 win.
This was the first game of the season without point guard Tyler Ulis, and it was clear early on the Cats would struggled without him. UK committed two quick turnovers against the Redbirds' press and finished the game with 15, their most since committing 20 vs Albany in the opener.
John Calipari knew his team would struggle in certain areas without Ulis, but fighting and hustling were two things the Cats didn't do enough of in the first half, which allowed ISU to tie the game at 31-all going into halftime.
"Without Tyler (Ulis), it's obvious we're not the same team. I mean, unless you were watching another game, we're not the same team. But it still doesn't mean that we shouldn't play hard and guys shouldn't battle and fight for balls. We got beat to everything in the first half."
Kentucky was able to build a 16-point lead midway through the second half, but the Redbirds were able to chip away at the lead as UK began going cold late in the game when Ulis has routinely come up big.
"Tyler wasn't there. And there's a couple guys that they just can't be in much at crunch time. It's just, you're not going to be in there because the other team, with three minutes to go, is just going to start fouling you and you. So as soon as I see it, then you got to come out of the game. You can't be in. It's obvious you're sitting saying, Cal, they're just going to foul these two guys. I know. And they can't be in. And that's their choice, not any of us.
"But these guys are not bad shooters. Right now we're 2-of-12, Dom was 0-of-3, Isaiah was 0-of-2. It's about that. Maybe 1-for-5. I would have been happier. But you have Tyler and have you Jamal. You're hoping that Derek can go in and make a three or so. But the reality of it is that you have two. And most teams like us, that's what you have. You have two really good 3-point shooters and the other guys for us are good drivers."