LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jamal Murray scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half including two of Kentucky’s five 3-pointers that helped the fifth-ranked Wildcats pull away from Arizona State for a 72-58 victory Saturday.
Leading 32-31 at halftime and looking somewhat lost with senior forward Alex Poythress temporarily sidelined with a hyperextended right knee, the Wildcats (9-1) regrouped to play more crisply and aggressively in the second. Most importantly, Kentucky found its outside shooting touch, hitting 5 of 10 from long range — after a 1-of-11 first half — to break the game open.
Marcus Lee added 14 points and seven rebounds for Kentucky, while guard Tyler Ulis had 12 points, including two from behind the arc.
Tra Holder had 15 points and Kodi Justice added 12 for Arizona State (6-3), which outrebounded Kentucky 22-14 in the first half before the Wildcats flipped that number in the second to finish even on the boards.
Kentucky shot 15 of 26 from the field in the second half (58 percent) and 44 percent overall to end Arizona State’s three game-winning streak. The Sun Devils made just 11 of 31 from the field (36 percent).
Kentucky coach John Calipari had warned of a challenge from the Sun Devils, whose first-year coach, Bobby Hurley, pushed Buffalo in a competitive game here last season. Arizona State was also well-rested after last Saturday’s win over No. 18 Texas A&M, one of several impressive victories so far.
The Wildcats meanwhile were coming off a 21-point win over neighboring Eastern Kentucky that was close before they took control late. Poythress’ third double-double of season (21 points, 13 rebounds) were the difference in that game, and he was a factor early against ASU with seven points, including a monstrous flying one-handed slam after stealing an inbounds pass.
The senior eventually went to the locker room with a hyperextended right knee, opposite the one surgically repaired a year ago. Poythress returned to finish with 10 points, and his hustle on both ends was a bright spot in an otherwise rough shooting first half in which the Wildcats’ outside struggles continued. They certainly looked different over the final 7 1/2 minutes without him.
Kentucky’s 22-14 lead soon became a tie at 28 with 1:44 left in the half as Arizona State began hitting shots. The Wildcats answered with baskets by Lee and Ulis providing a 32-31 halftime lead, but they were outrebounded and shot 31 percent.
The second half was a different story as Murray hit two of his four field goals from 3-point range and set the tone for Kentucky, which was also more physical and controlled.
Arizona State: The 14-point margin of defeat was the Sun Devils’ largest this season after losing two others by eight combined points.
Kentucky: Junior forward Derek Willis (seven points, three rebounds) emerged with a shaved head after a failed experiment to dye his hair blond left his locks looking grayish. … Freshman Skal Labissiere again struggled. The 6-foot-11 center didn’t score and fouled out.
Arizona State visits UNLV on Wednesday.
Kentucky faces Ohio State in New York on Saturday.