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Forgotten freshman Marcus Lee's improbable contributions were key for Kentucky

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kentucky vs Michigan
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Forward Marcus Lee dunks against Michigan (USATSI)

In the 24 games Kentucky played between the start of SEC play and Sunday's Elite Eight matchup with Michigan, seldom-used freshman Marcus Lee scored a total of nine points.

The 6-foot-9 forward exceeded that in one night against the Wolverines.

Lee capitalized on an opportunity created by the ankle injury suffered by Willie Cauley-Stein two nights earlier against Louisville, scoring 10 points, grabbing a season-high 8 rebounds and blocking a pair of shots. All 10 of Lee's points came in the first half, helping Kentucky survive an early onslaught from the Wolverines and rally from a 10-point first-half deficit to emerge with a 75-72 victory.

Though Lee's knack for gobbling up offensive boards and finishing at the rim surely weren't focal points of the Michigan scouting report, his impact also shouldn't have been a complete surprise. He isn't some no-name bench warmer after all. The Antioch, Calif., native earned McDonald's All-American honors and was Rivals.com's No. 19 recruit in the class of 2013. 

One of the most coveted recruits in his class on the West Coast, Lee chose the chance to develop under John Calipari at Kentucky over starting immediately at hometown California. Opportunities have been scarce for Lee behind centers Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson this season, but both he and his family members have insisted that he is content to be patient in Lexington. 

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Lee did not play in either of Kentucky's first two NCAA tournament games and logged one minute against Louisville.

The athleticism, energy and nose for the ball he showed Sunday suggests Lee could see a bigger role during the Final Four if Cauley-Stein cannot return. It also hints that he could see more time next season even with Johnson likely to return and incoming freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl Towns set to compete for minutes at power forward and center.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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