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Freshman Lee key to UK victory

03/31/2014, 12:22am EDT

Forward proves to be inside force

Freshman Lee key to UK victory

Kentucky coach John Calipari celebrates with Marcus Lee after the Wildcats’ win.

INDIANAPOLIS — Three days ago, John Calipari had a word with one of his many freshmen. In front of a gallery of media members in the moments after Kentucky’s 75-72 win over Michigan, the Wildcats’ fifth-year coach made Marcus Lee recite what he told the freshman forward.

“He told the team I was going to have a big day,” Lee said. “Knowing us, none of us believed him.”

Calipari quickly reminded Lee what else he had told him.

“And everyone in the world would be talking about you,” he said. “That’s what I said.”

Sure enough, Lee fulfilled Calipari’s prophecy.

RELATED ARTICLE: Michigan's run ends in Elite Eight

Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Lee came off the bench and scored six points in the first nine minutes while helping the Wildcats rally to keep the pace with Michigan. Among his first-half highlights were a pair of thundering dunks, and as the game progressed, Lee provided a valuable inside presence.

“Coach just told me to always be ready,” said Lee, who finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. “So I just tried to stay ready, no matter what the time was and contribute to the team.”

Buried in a lineup of freshmen — even Calipari marveled that his team returns to the Final Four with seven freshmen — Lee wasn’t even on Michigan’s radar before Sunday’s Elite Eight game.

“We had very little on him,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “But he does one thing really, really well, that he plays way above the rim. You can see the size disadvantage was obvious out there.”

Lee, a 6-foot-9 former McDonald’s All-American from Antioch, Calif., played in 22 of Kentucky’s first 27 games with four starts, but had been plagued by a stomach illness in his first season.

“It kind of set him back,” Calipari said. “Then Dakari [Johnson] and Willie [Cauley-Stein] went crazy, both of them playing so good. That’s what happened, more than anything else. But I know he had it in him.”

Lee emerged Sunday, called into duty after Cauley-Stein sustained an ankle injury Friday in Kentucky’s 74-69 win over Louisville.

“He just took advantage of his moment and I am just so happy for him,” Johnson said. “We all knew he was capable of doing that, but he just took it to a new level.”

THE NEXT STEP? Neither forwards Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, or guard Nik Stauskas opted to give any comment on their future, either at Michigan or in professional basketball.

“Right now is just not the time,” said Robinson, who was considered an NBA draft prospect last year. “Our season is over, so that’s all we’re really thinking about and reflecting on.”

Stauskas’ father told Sports Illustrated in January that his son was considering declaring for this year’s NBA draft, comments that Stauskas later apologized for. At he time, the younger Stauskas said he would address the possibility of turning pro following the season.

“We’re all pretty sad about this loss right now,” Stauskas said Sunday. “We’ll address that later on with our families. But right now, it’s just tough going through this.”

FIRST-TIMERS: Michigan and Kentucky met for the seventh time and for first time in the NCAA tournament since the 1993 national semifinals in New Orleans — a 81-78 win for the Wolverines.

Calipari and Beilein met for the first time as coaches in Sunday’s Elite Eight.

HEADING HOME: Kentucky forward Julius Randle is a native of Dallas and will return to his home state to play for a spot in the national title game.

“I’m coming home to my mom,” Randle said of his mother, Carolyn Kyles, who was at Sunday’s game but who had to leave early in order to return to Texas.

FINAL FOUR FIELD: Kentucky was the final team to earn a spot in the Final Four, which begins Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Wildcats join Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Florida. Florida faces Connecticut at 6:09 p.m. and Kentucky is scheduled to face Wisconsin at 8:49 p.m.

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Tag(s): College  Michigan  Rachel Lenzi