Team No Sleepies: Lee Leads UK Past ISU

John Calipari basically went down the list of his best players one by one and described how they didn’t have an impact.

He said Jamal Murray “didn’t play in the first half.” The same was true for Alex Poythress. He commented that Skal Labissiere “really gave us nothing the whole game.”

And then there’s Tyler Ulis, who was sidelined for Kentucky’s game on Monday with a hyperextended elbow.

“Without Tyler, it's obvious we're not the same team,” Calipari said.

How then did UK manage to beat Illinois State anyway?

Marcus Lee.

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

Lee had 13 points and 12 rebounds – the second double-double of both his career and season – in the Wildcats’ 75-63 win over the Redbirds on Monday. He added two blocks and impressive defense overall.

“He was great,” said Jamal Murray, who had 18 points, 12 coming after halftime. “He grabbed a lot of offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, very active, blocked shots and communicated a lot. So he helped the team on defense a lot.”

No one would have said that about Lee after his previous three outings.

On the heels of his first-ever double-double against Duke, Lee managed only 13 points and 14 rebounds combined against Wright State, Boston and South Florida. The performances led Coach Cal to replace him in the starting lineup with Alex Poythress on Monday night.

“One of the things I told him is, if you're not playing with energy, I'm not playing you,” Calipari said. “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. And you need that kind of player on your team. But if he's not playing with energy, you get what you have at South Florida.”

That might not have been easy for Lee to hear, but he took it to heart.

“He saw it early that I just mentally wasn’t there, and that’s something I have to recognize early and try to fix,” Lee said. “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.”

But if figuring it out were that easy, Lee would have done it a long time ago. What Calipari is asking of him is difficult, and it begins the moment Lee wakes up each day.

“I mean, to play with that kind of energy, to come out and make that who you are, it's hard,” Calipari said. “You have bags under your eyes, you can't do it. 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.”

The thing is, however, that Calipari has a powerful tool at his disposal in working to coax that kind of play out of Lee all the time: the bench.

“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. “So I definitely got that message.”