Kentucky Visits Arkansas on Thursday

With Kentucky having lost two of its last four games after being within striking distance or leading late in both defeats, John Calipari has found a new emphasis in practice.

Kentucky vs. Arkansas
Thur., Jan. 21 - 7 p.m. ET
Bud Walton Arena
Fayetteville, Ark.
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats AU
13-4 Record 9-8
3-2 Conference Record 3-2
.466 FG% .472
.410 Opp FG% .438
.320 3FG% .447
.660 FT% .724
77.3 PPG 83.8
39.6 RPG 38.0
5.5 BPG 5.6
13.7 APG 18.2
6.5 SPG 7.8
“Coach has stressed it for the last three days: It’s winning time,” assistant coach John Robic said. “It’s either a winning play or not a winning play.”

If that seems an obvious thing, it probably should. But if you think it sounds like idle coachspeak, think again. Calipari and his staff are going about focusing on winning plays in a deliberate way.

“We’ve been grading film that way as well, showing the players, ‘Was it a positive play or was it a negative play?’ so that they see what you have to do,” Robic said. “Now there are positive plays that we missed shots. That’s OK. It’s the ones that your negatives outweigh your positives.”

The young Wildcats (13-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) didn’t grow up always playing that way. Carrying heavy loads for prep and AAU teams while simultaneously trying to draw the attention of college coaches and scouting services, the little things weren’t necessarily the priority.

As UK prepares for a trip to Arkansas (9-8, 3-2 SEC), the Cats are continuing their work in shifting that thinking.

“That’s what we’re going through in practice,” Jamal Murray said. “We’re scrimmaging, just playing against each other and compete and know what’s going to win us the game.”

One player – Tyler Ulis – doesn’t need a whole lot of work in that area. The sophomore has unquestionably been UK’s most consistent performer and is in the midst of a season that has established Ulis as one of the nation’s top point guards.

He is Kentucky’s second-leading scorer – with four 20-point games in his last six outings – and is tops in assists, steals and free-throw shooting. He nearly posted a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists his last time out, nearly willing his team to victory at Auburn.

“Well, first of all, Tyler just wants to win,” Robic said. “So he is doing what it takes to try to win.”

And if it’s possible, Ulis has found another gear this week in the wake of that loss to Auburn.

“He’s so competitive,” Robic said. “The last couple of days we’ve been scrimmaging he’s been so competitive. I think it’s a responsibility of everybody that’s on the floor to try to take that away from him.”

Skal Labissiere, though he stands more than a foot taller than Ulis, has come to see him as a role model.

“I’ve gotten to learn a lot from Tyler,” Labissiere said. “He loves to win. We definitely, the rest of the team, we have to follow him as a leader, and definitely have that same drive to win every game like he does.”

UK will need every ounce of that drive against the Razorbacks.

On top of being one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country – Arkansas is third nationally at 44.7 percent – the Razorbacks will enjoy a home-court advantage that has flummoxed the Cats under Calipari. UK is 0-3 at Bud Walton Arena since Coach Cal’s arrival and he’ll be taking an inexperienced team to Fayetteville, Ark., though it’s one that’s learning the rigors of the road.

“I think the first time out to play on the road was a shock to them,” Robic said. “Now they’re starting to sense when you go to Alabama and it’s sold out, you go to Auburn and it’s sold out, this game is sold out at Arkansas with another T-shirt giveaway, they understand now. The teams are excited to play Kentucky. They’re excited to play us but we have to have more excitement and more energy to them, especially going into their building.”

Ulis won’t have any trouble responding in a tough environment. Now UK just needs that attitude to rub off on his teammates.

“It did the last couple days,” Robic said. “I’m sure it will today in practice here in a little while. That’s what we expect. That’s what we demand. It’s just taking some time but I think the competitive edge in everyone is starting to blossom.”

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:

• UK has had a player score at least 20 points in all five Southeastern Conference games this season. The last time UK had a player score at least 20 in the first five SEC games was 2009
• Murray has scored in double figures 15 times this season, with 13 games going for more than 15 points
• 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 is 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 has made 20 consecutive free throws
• Willis is the first Kentucky native with 12 points and 12 rebounds in an SEC road game since Reggie Hanson on Jan. 31, 1990
• Ulis is the first player since Wall with 10 consecutive games of at least four or more assists

Guard Play Shines in Win Over Mississippi State

Kentucky’s starting guard rotation of Isaiah Briscoe, Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis combined for 57 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds and four steals in leading UK to an 80-74 victory over visiting Mississippi State on Tuesday. The win was the 30th consecutive win for the Wildcats (13-3, 3-1) in Rupp Arena and it also marked the ninth straight win over the Bulldogs in the series.

Mississippi State (7-8, 0-3) rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half and trailed 74-71 with 1:14 remaining, but the Wildcats made six free throws over the final 47 seconds to seal the win.

Murray made two of his first three shots -- both 3-pointers -- and scored 11 of Kentucky’s first 17 points. Murray connected on three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the first half en route to 22 for the game. He has now scored 20 or more points in three consecutive outings. Ulis was the other Wildcat to reach 20 points with 21. He’s scored 20 or more in four of his last five games.

Other notables:

• Mississippi State led 5-0 early. With the game tied at 10, Kentucky went ahead for good with a 13-0 run, and the Wildcats never trailed again
• Kentucky shot 50.9 percent from the field, the eighth time this season the Wildcats have made at least half their shots in a game
• Mississippi State shot 52.9 percent from the field. UK had held the previous 55 home opponents to less than 50 percent from the field
• Briscoe poured in 14 points on 7-of-9 (.778) shooting. He has made 13-of-19 shots (.684) in his last two games
• Marcus Lee had two points and a game-high nine rebounds
• Alex Poythress had six points, eight rebounds and hit four clutch free throws over the final minute of play
• In just 11 minutes of action, junior Derek Willis had eight points, an assist, a steal and a block