According to John Calipari, that's exactly what he wanted.
"This (Illinois State) team is going to win a lot of games," the UK boss said. "They took San Diego State and Maryland to the wire. They had us on the ropes. Think about that. Those are the kind of games they played, and they have lost them, but they played them. I think Dan (Muller) has done a great job playing the way they have to play. They were just tougher than us."
Prior to losing by 12 at Kentucky, the Redbirds (3-5) played San Diego State to a 71-60 margin and No. 2 Maryland to a 77-66 outcome.
"This was a good thing," Calipari added. "... You gotta take stock. The thing about elite athletes and world-class athletes, they can evaluate their performance and (say), 'Alright, I've gotta fix this.' They self-evaluate, and that's what this team needs to do. Without Tyler (Ulis) it's obvious we're not the same team, unless you were watching another game. We're not the same team. But it still doesn't mean we shouldn't play hard and guys shouldn't battle and get to loose balls."
Kentucky (7-0) won despite missing 17 free throws, making only two 3-pointers and turning the ball over 15 times. A second double-double from Marcus Lee went a long way toward overcoming those numbers. The junior forward scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in bouncing back from a subpar performance on Friday in UK's win against South Florida in Miami.
"He was great today. Boy was he good," Calipari said. "If Marcus Lee doesn't play, we lose."
Said Lee: "After having a couple bad games, you have to either figure it out or stand back, and that’s not something I do. So I got that message."
The Cats also got 18 points from freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe, who handled the main point guard duties in place of Ulis, who was sidelined by a hyperextended elbow. Fellow freshman Jamal Murray added 16 points. UK overcame a subpar night for talented freshman center Skal Labissiere, who finished with two points and two rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
Illinois State was led by DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell with a game-high 22 points.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" section, we touch on some of the quick-hitters from UK's win...
Kentucky did not grab its first lead until the 10:42 mark of the first half and found itself in a 31-31 tie at the break. But the Cats came out strong in the second half, using a 25-9 run to open up some breathing room at 56-40 with 12 minutes remaining. Murray had nine points and Briscoe had seven during the decisive spurt. The Redbirds got no closer than seven the rest of the game.
Lee was the "energy guy" Calipari has always wanted him to be, creating most of his offense from hustling after loose balls and offensive rebounds. Kentucky had been outrebounded 20-12 in the first half, but finished with a 39-37 advantage thanks in large part to the California native's board work.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Time that UK used the starting lineup of Briscoe, Murray, Charles Matthews, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere.
3rd - Time in the last 50 seasons that UK has won each of its first seven games by at least 11 points.
9 - Blocked shots for the Cats with at least one from seven different players.
35.7% - Illinois State's field goal percentage against the Cats.
46 - Free throws attempted by UK, the second-highest figure in the Calipari era. The Cats hit 29 of them for 63 percent.
50 - Percent free-throw shooting (10 of 20) by UK in the first half.
"Obviously you know what I said. Alex (Poythress) started." - UK coach John Calipari on what he said to Marcus Lee after his four-point, six-rebound game against USF.
Kentucky travels to Los Angeles for a matchup with UCLA on Thursday at historic Pauley Pavillion. The game will feature the programs with the most championships in NCAA men's basketball history. The Bruins (4-3) are coming off a 77-45 win over Cal State Northridge. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.