ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands -- It has been 12 years since Illinois won its first five games. After an upset victory over No. 9 Kentucky, the Illini are showing they are a team to contend with this season.
Chatrice White scored 23 points and Ivory Crawford added 22 to help Illinois beat Kentucky on Thursday at the Paradise Jam.
"I think everyone underestimates us," White said. "I think we made a statement tonight. It was crazy, we were so hyped in the locker room. It was a great feeling."
Illinois (5-0) led 40-39 early in the second half before scoring eight straight, including the last four by Crawford to open up a nine-point lead. Kyley Simmons' 3-pointer with 9:45 left extended the advantage to 57-45 before Kentucky (4-1) rallied to 66-63 with 2:15 left.
Simmons hit 9 of 10 free throws over the rest of the game to seal the victory.
"I just had to take them one at a time," Simmons said. "My teammates and coaches give me all the confidence and I was able to hit them."
Makayla Epps scored a career-high 20 points to lead the Wildcats.
Illinois jumped over Kentucky scoring 10 of the first 12 points. Kentucky rallied behind Epps and took a 28-20 lead with 6:33 left in the half.
The Illini closed the first 20 minutes with a 14-5 run to take a one-point lead at the break.
"We were just not locked in defensively, and that was really what ended up deciding the outcome of the game," said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell. "I thought that Illinois came out fired up and ready to play, and you have to credit them for that."
Kentucky's streak of 367 straight games with a 3-pointer came to an end. The last time the Wildcats didn't hit a 3 was on Nov. 29, 2003, against San Francisco. ... Kentucky last lost to an unranked team at a neutral site was against LSU on March 3, 2012, in the SEC tournament.
This is Illinois' best start since 2002-03 when the team also won its first five games. That season was also the last time that the Illini made the NCAA tournament. They haven't been 6-0 since 1986-87.
This was the sixth meeting between the schools and Illinois have gone 4-2, including the last four. The two teams hadn't met since 1988.
Kentucky plays Oklahoma on Friday in the next round of the Paradise Jam.
Illinois plays South Florida on Friday in the next round of the Paradise Jam.