Kentucky gets a stinker from Skal Labissiere, still routs Arizona State

Tyler Ulis went for 12 points, six assists and five rebounds on Saturday. (USATSI)

Here’s a positive development for Kentucky: It now knows it can beat a decent major-conference team even if it gets a stinker of a game from one of its best players.

Such was the story Saturday afternoon for Big Blue at home. The fifth-ranked Wildcats improved to 9-1 in their 72-58 victory while Arizona State fell to 6-3.

All’s well that ends well for Kentucky, but in reality the game was weirdly sloppy and not all that attractive for the first 20 minutes. But close? Oh, yeah. The Wildcats were 1 for 10 from 3 in the first half. Outside the paint, UK was an unthinkable 1 for 17 in the first 20 minutes. John Calipari’s team led by one point at the break, and it didn’t help that one highly touted UK freshman had a game to forget.

Skal Labissiere, who is projected to be a top-three NBA pick, finished with no points and no rebounds — and fouled out. Arizona State’s physicality absolutely set back Labissiere. He may well have a long week ahead of him, as Cal’s big men normally don’t get pushed around like that. Labissiere, who has a lot of really nice tools, has turned into a project at this point. A month back, nobody would have ever expected him to go bagel-bagel in points and boards in any game this season.

The second half was a completely different story for Kentucky, by the way. It shot 5 for 8 from 3-point range and arm barred Arizona State. The Sun Devils were led by Tra Holder’s 15 points.

There was a brief moment of uncertainty for UK fans, as senior Alex Poythress left near the end of the first half after suffering a hyperextended knee. Remember, Poythress is fully recovered after ripping up his knee last season. Turns out the setback was only temporary and Poythress returned after halftime.

Before the hyperextension, Poythress did this.

That’ll do.

The Wildcats now have some time off for finals before facing another nonconference opponent from a power five league on a national stage. Kentucky’s next game comes against Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic. That game will originate from Brooklyn, New York, on CBS next Saturday.

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