Kentucky Hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday at Rupp

Kentucky handled its business against Arkansas, overcoming a hostile road crowd and one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams on the way to a big victory.

Less than 48 hours later, the Wildcats will try do the same against a similarly hot-shooting Vanderbilt squad at home.

Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt
Sat., Jan. 23 - 4 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | VU Get Acrobat Reader
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats VU
14-4 Record 11-7
4-2 Conference Record 3-3
.464 FG% .464
.409 Opp FG% .4373
.320 3FG% .408
.667 FT% .707
77.4 PPG 78.9
39.8 RPG 38.8
5.7 BPG 5.6
13.4 APG 15.1
6.4 SPG 4.8
The similarities end there.

“This is a little different,” John Calipari said. “How we’re going to go at this is a little different.”

It’s a different kind of challenge for No. 23/19 UK (14-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) because Coach Cal says Vandy, along with the team atop league standings, is the class of the conference.

“They’re good,” Calipari said. “I mean Texas A&M, Vandy are probably–LSU may be in that range but I think Texas A&M and Vandy, they’re both teams.”

Vanderbilt’s 11-7 record (3-3 in SEC play) entering Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at Rupp Arena might not show it, but the Commodores are among the best teams UK will face this season in Calipari’s mind. Vandy has played one of the nation’s toughest schedules, and much of it without 7-foot-1 junior Luke Kornet. With him in the lineup, Vandy is 9-4. Without him, 2-3.

The Commodores have won three in a row, with Kornet posting a double-double and a triple-double in that stretch.

“(They’re) really good,” Calipari said. “Really good. Run great stuff. Really can shoot the three. The biggest team we’ve played. I mean they’re huge. Their man is better than you think. Their zone, they’ll play a zone and space it out. That zone has given us trouble in the past.”

Vandy ranks ninth nationally in effective height according to and uses that size and a combination of man and zone to make life hard on opponents. The Commodores are first nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense.

The good news for the Cats is they have Thursday’s solid performance fresh on their minds.

“A really hard game for us,” Calipari said. “I’m glad we played liked we did because we have a little confidence. If we didn’t have a little confidence going into this game, ‘Whew.’ Because they’re good.”

Confident or not, Calipari still can’t predict what he will get from his team on a game-to-game basis. The Cats are still young, inexperienced and learning about one another. 

“How do we play?” Calipari said. “What’s the best way for this group to play? But I will say this: If we don’t defend—the whole thing on this team is just guard. Just make sure you’re guarding, make it tough on the other team and I’ll take our chances offensively.”

For Kentucky, taking its chances offensively often has everything to do with Tyler Ulis. 

The junior point guard is playing 36.4 minutes per game and shouldering an incredible load, both in terms of scoring and running his team. Ulis’ scoring average is all the way up to 14.9 points per game on the season after a career-high 24 points at Arkansas, his fifth 20-point performance in seven games. In that same stretch, he has 50 assists and only 13 turnovers.

Now, Calipari is challenging Ulis’ teammates to give him the support he needs and using the bench as the motivator.

“If you are just totally relying on Tyler, I’m taking you out of the game,” Calipari said. “You have to be responsible for you. If you have a shot, you quickly throw it back to Tyler because you don’t want to shoot it, you’re out. You’re not playing. And I did it twice last night. You’re out. You’re not doing that to him. He’s got too much stuff. I’m putting all this on his shoulders and you’re giving him more? Well then why should you be in?”

Whether it’s on offense or defense, Calipari says it’s all about attitude for Kentucky.

“We’re still trying to figure them out, they’re trying to figure each other out,” Calipari said. “But I know this: the attitude of refuse to lose, just – Now, you may run out of time. The clock may run out of time on you. But it’s not because you weren’t fighting to win the game. You just didn’t have enough time, needed two more minutes. So hopefully we get back to that, and if we do, we’re going to be fine.”

Willis, Labissiere Spark Wildcats to Road Win at Arkansas

With junior Derek Willis making only his second start of the season and Tyler Ulis performing at his usual lofty level, Kentucky (14-4, 4-2) put together a nearly wire-to-wire victory - putting the Auburn loss behind it in the process with an 80-66 win at Arkansas.

Ulis had 24 points to lead four Wildcats in double figures, but it was Willis who provided the stability Calipari has been looking for while finishing with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He also added seven rebounds. Jamal Murray had 19 points and Skal Labissiere 11.

The win for Calipari was his first as coach of the Wildcats in Bud Walton Arena.

Kentucky, more importantly, rebounded from allowing a season-worst 12 3-pointers in the loss at Auburn by holding the Southeastern Conference’s top shooting team to a season-low two makes from behind the arc on Thursday night.

Kentucky scored four baskets on putbacks early in the game, including three on dunks. Alex Poythress had two of the putback dunks, while Marcus Lee had another, and Willis put the Wildcats up 20-11 with another - giving the junior seven of Kentucky’s first 20 points.

The Wildcats, who haven’t lost two straight games since 2014, led by as many as 14 points late in the half and extend that to as many as 18 in the second.

Other notables:

• Kentucky is 31-6 under Calipari in “bounce back” games following a loss
• Fifteen of Kentucky’s first 17 points came from its frontcourt
• UK grabbed the game’s first seven rebounds
• The Wildcats committed a season-low six turnovers and blocked a season-high-tying nine shots
• Ulis scored a career-high 24 points, and the Wildcats have had at least one player top 20 points in all six SEC games for the first time since 2009
• Ulis had five assists and eclipsed 100 for the season. He did so in 17 games, the sixth-fastest pace in school history
• Willis blocked a career-high four shots
• Labissiere topped double-figure scoring for the first time since Dec. 9, 2015 vs. EKU

Auburn Outlasts Wildcats

Kentucky owned a 35-30 point lead at halftime, but Auburn outscored the Cats by 10 in the second half to prevail by a 75-70 score. The loss snapped an 18-game winning streak over the Tigers.

UK went ahead by as many as 12 in the second half before the home team put together a 21-4 run to take a 56-51 lead. The Wildcats rallied to take the lead back three times, the last coming when Tyler Ulis hit a layup with 1:42 left to make it 67-65. But Auburn was able to close the game on a 10-3 run for the win. Auburn’s last win over Kentucky came in 2000, when the Tigers were ranked fourth in the country.

Jamal Murray scored 20 points to lead Kentucky, while Ulis nearly compiled a triple-double, with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Derek Willis had his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Other notables:

• Ulis earned his second career double-double with the 17 points and 10 rebounds. He’s the first player since John Wall to log a double-double in both points and rebounds and points and assists in the same season
• Willis became the fifth different Wildcat to notch a double-double this season. UK has not had five different players log a double-double since 2000-01
• Willis became the first Kentucky native with 12 points and 12 rebounds in an SEC road game since Reggie Hanson on Jan. 31, 1990