When Coach John Calipari was ejected from the game just over two minutes after the tip-off, I began to worry.
Would they be rattled? How would the team respond? Would they fight through the adversity or roll over in one of the biggest games of the season? Fortunately, the Cats responded positively and routed the Gamecocks with a 27-point victory.
A good, bad, and ugly post is hard to write when the team plays well, but here we go.
The Good: Ulis, Murray, and Lee
Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and Marcus Lee were the keys to the victory for the Wildcats.
Ulis recorded career-highs in points and assists, scoring 27 points and adding 12 assists. Ulis was efficient from the floor, dropping in several shots from midrange that are seemingly automatic. Ulis shot 7-14 from the floor, including 4-8 from the three point line. Ulis was fantastic when the shot clock was winding down, hitting several clutch baskets with the shot clock under five seconds. He also added nine points from the free-throw line.
What is really impressive about Ulis is his ability to play at a high level without turning the ball over. Ulis turned the ball over only once over the course of the game while playing a total of 38 minutes. His assist/turnover margin is one of the best in the country and is the reason he should be considered for the National Player of the Year.
Jamal Murray also turned in a fantastic performance on Saturday. Murray finished with 26 points on 9-21 shooting (4-11 from behind the arc) and 4-6 from the free throw line. He also added five rebounds to his stat line. Murray's shooting was not as efficient as in previous games, but he was able to consistently score throughout the game and played a critical role in the victory.
Marcus Lee had arguably his best game of the season, in my opinion. With Derek Willis, Skal Labissiere, and Issac Humphries battling fouls, Lee could not afford to get himself into foul trouble, as he has done many times this season. With Lee staying out of foul trouble and seeing extended minutes, he turned in a strong 11 points and 13 rebounds, along with two blocked shots. Lee was strong on both ends, catching lobs like most of the Big Blue Nation has been accustomed to, and playing strong interior defense.
Lee's rebounding was a huge part of the win, with six of his 13 rebounds coming on the offensive glass. Lee is one of the better offensive rebounders in the conference when he can stay on the floor, and he showed why against the Gamecocks. Those offensive rebounds turned into multiple second-chance opportunities that the Cats were able to convert into points.
The Bad: Fouls, fouls, and more fouls
If you've watched Kentucky play this year, you know that they have a tendency to get into foul trouble. This was my primary concern going up against South Carolina. The Gamecocks are known as a team that can spread you out, attack off the dribble, and draw fouls. They earn a large portion of their points from the free-throw line.
That was the case on Saturday, The Gamecocks drew 21 fouls, resulting in 31 free throw attempts. Skal Labissiere, Issac Humphries, and Derek Willis struggled with foul trouble throughout the game. It worked out well on Saturday, but Kentucky's bigs have to try to avoid foul trouble moving forward, especially with Alex Poythress still sidelined with an injury.
The Ugly: Doug Sirmons and John Calipari's exchange
It was such an odd sequence of events. Rarely do you see Calipari lose his cool the way he did two and a half minutes into such a huge game for his team. I do not know what referee Doug Sirmons said to John Calipari, but it apparently rubbed him the wrong way. Of course, fans on the internet have proposed that Calipari did it on purpose, but I struggle to believe that's the case. I guess anything is possible though.