By LARRY VAUGHT
For months Kentucky coach John Calipari has been wanting to see more fight out of his team. He got it Saturday — even if he was not on the bench after being ejected early in the win at South Carolina.
“South Carolina is the most physical team in this conference. They are the toughest, fightingest team in this conference. They win games because they absolutely beat you up, physical play, offensive rebound, defensive rebound, attack you constantly,” Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said after the win.
“And for us to play the way we did, it makes a statement about who we are. I can’t – when I told the guys during the end of the game, I can’t explain how proud I am to be a part of guys that played a team – there was no reason for us to believe that we were gonna go out and maybe outrebound or not get dominated rebounding-wise and not get stops against a team like that.”
A lot of that fight came from junior Marcus Lee, who often has been missing in action. But not Saturday when he had 11 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. If he plays like that with the guard play UK gets, Kentucky is n elite team.
“ So proud of him. He played well. He did a great job,” Payne said.
Point guard Tyler Ulis, who ran the offense flawlessly, knew what Lee’s play meant.
“I feel like it just started with him rebounding. Trying to get in the paint for us. Guys got into foul trouble and he held it on his own down there getting boards,” Ulis said.
In the second half, Ulis even threw a lob off the backboard to Lee on a fast break that Lee turned into a dunk.
“He saved me on that backboard lob. He just had a lot of energy today, dunking the ball, going up strong and rebounding for us,” Ulis said. “I intentionally threw it, but the guy backed off of me, so I thought it was going to be a turnover. He still caught it and dunked it over him.”
Payne liked that and everything else about UK’s play.
“Some people, some fans may say, I don’t like the way Kentucky handled some situations. The reality of it is, this game is about fight. That team wanted to physically intimidate us, that team wanted to beat us up and show us that they’re superior to the way we play and that we’re soft,” Payne said.
“Well we went out and fought for what we fought for and we had success doing it.”