Kentucky Visits Tennessee on Tuesday

To say Tyler Ulis shouldered a heavy load at Kansas on Saturday would be an understatement.

Not only did Kentucky’s point guard, leader and coach on the floor have to set the tone both offensively and defensively, he also had to do it for every second of an overtime loss at Kansas.

Kentucky vs. Tennessee
Tue., Feb. 2 - 7 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena
Knoxville, Tenn.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | UT Get Acrobat Reader
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats UT
16-5 Record 10-11
6-2 Conference Record 3-5
.474 FG% .423
.404 Opp FG% .421
.320 3FG% .332
.667 FT% .740
78.2 PPG 77.4
39.4 RPG 38.8
5.8 BPG 5.4
13.7 APG 13.9
6.5 SPG 6.3
“His defensive effort, what he was doing, was tremendous,” Dominique Hawkins said. “And then his offense as well, to be able to play that many minutes and do as well as he did is unbelievable.”

Ulis’ line in the box score speaks for itself. He had a career-high 26 points – his eighth 20-point performance in 10 games – to go with eight assists and three steals. The ball was in his hands more than any other UK player and his pressure on the ball was essential as UK tried to withstand the Jayhawks and their raucous crowd.

Hawkins, however, could sense it all got to Ulis at the end. The fact that he committed two of his three turnovers on UK’s final possession of regulation and in overtime supports that notion.

It’s with that in mind that Kentucky’s coaches are working to get their stalwart sophomore an occasional breather as the No. 20/19 Wildcats (16-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) prepare for a Tuesday trip to Tennessee (10-11, 3-5 SEC).

“He definitely needed a break,” associate head coach Kenny Payne said. “At this point, it’s been unbelievable what he’s done. But we as coaches, we’ve got to come up with something: a rotation, something we can create to give him a break so he can finish games for us.”
Outside of the South Florida game when he hurt his elbow and the Illinois State game he missed with that same injury, Ulis has played 30 minutes or more in all but one game this season. He’s played every second of five games and is averaging more minutes (36.3) than any player John Calipari has ever coached at UK.

And improbably, his heavy minute totals aren’t even all that unique on this UK team. Fellow guards Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe – though they have the luxury of normally playing off the ball – are averaging 34.3 and 32 minutes, respectively.

“The key to our success right now is ball pressure, so we’re trying to play 40 minutes really pressuring the ball, really dictating the plays, really getting out in transition,” Payne said. “So for those three guards, it’s taxing. It’s very taxing.”

With that in mind, the staff is working to cut the trio’s minutes down to the 30-33 range.

“We have to get a little more of a rotation going and then who is in on that rotation,” Calipari said on Monday’s SEC coaches’ teleconference. “So, we’re working on that right now trying to come up with a pre-, set-in-stone plan, especially in the first half of how we’re subbing players, know it, coaches know it, here’s what we’re doing. And it doesn’t matter if they score, here’s how we’re doing this.”

All possibilities are on the table at this point in the planning process.

Payne mentioned playing Derek Willis more, presumably meaning he would shift to the three position and let one of the three guards rest. Hawkins might present an even more logical answer.

The 6-foot junior was fresh off the best game of his college career – a 13-point outing against Louisville – when he sustained a high ankle sprain against Ole Miss. He missed the next four weeks, returning as a game-time decision against Kansas.

“We didn’t know up until when the game started,” Payne said. “The way the game was going, we thought he could help us. He tried and did a good job. He missed a couple open shots, but we’re not worried about that. We need defensive pressure.”

Hawkins played 15 minutes against Kansas and scored four points. He missed three good 3-point looks, but relished the opportunity to play again.

“It felt great,” Hawkins said. “Been waiting for a while to come back in and play with my brothers.”

Now, the ever-humble Hawkins only wants to reestablish himself as a fourth guard, there to provide some much-needed support to the overtaxed first three.

“Definitely need another guy because they can’t go in and play all 40 minutes,” Hawkins said. “And if they could, they’d be, like, not a human to be able to play that. Definitely you need somebody off the bench to find a role and come in and give good minutes off the bench.”

On top of being a capable player, Hawkins also provides the kind of veteran presence that could boost a young UK team. He’s different from his freshman teammates in that he’s been to hostile road environments like Tennessee before.

“It’s a hard to place to come in and win,” Hawkins said. “That environment there is crazy. They’ll probably have a sellout crowd and be waiting for us.”

Tennessee might be under .500 on the season and playing one of the smallest lineups in the country under first-year head coach Rick Barnes, but the Volunteers will be ready to go.

“We can go to Tennessee and play well and lose,” Payne said. “Our guys know that, so we have to go out and fight for every possession, especially defensively and especially rebounding. We’ll manufacture points. The key to us winning is going out and fighting defensively and rebounding that basketball. Tennessee is capable of beating us. We know it. Our team knows it.”

Kentucky Falls in Thriller at Kansas in Overtime

In one of the most thrilling college basketball games of the season, the 20th-ranked Wildcats dropped a heartbreaker at Allen Fieldhouse to No. 4/3 Kansas, 90-84, in overtime on Saturday. The Wildcats led by as many as eight early in the second half, but the Jayhawks rallied in front of their home crowd thanks to a 14-8 overtime period for the win to snap a three-game winning streak for the Cats in the series.

Junior Tyler Ulis was simply magnificent on the national stage with a career-high 26 points, eight assists and three steals. Ulis led the Wildcats from start to finish as he played all 45 minutes of the contest. Freshman Jamal Murray chipped in with 15 points while Isaiah Briscoe (12) and Alex Poythress (13) were the other Wildcats to reach double-figure scoring. Kentucky fought off a 33-20 discrepancy in fouls and a 42-31 margin in rebounding to give the team a chance in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball.

Ulis and Poythress combined to go 10 of 12 from the field in the opening 20 minutes to lift UK to a 46-40 halftime advantage. Kansas took a one-point lead at 76-75 with 49.2 seconds remaining, but Murray hit a pull-up jumper a few seconds later and Kansas’ Perry Ellis made one of two free throws to tie the game at 76 and send the game into overtime.

Other notables:

• The loss snapped a three-game winning streak in the series
• Kansas scored 90 points, the most by a UK opponent this year. UK is 0-3 this year when allowing 80-plus points. UK has allowed 74-plus points in all five losses
• Kentucky scored 84 points, its fourth most in a game this year and the second most in a loss in the John Calipari era
• UK committed a season high and UK high under Calipari with 33 fouls. It was the most for any UK team since the Wildcats committed 34 on Jan. 14, 1997
• Kansas made 30 free throws on 47 attempts. Both were the most by UK opponent this year. According to ESPN Stats and Info, it was the second most made free throws for Kansas in the last 20 seasons
• Kentucky had four players foul out for the first time since Dec. 4, 2010 at North Carolina
• UK shot 53.2 percent from the field. UK has shot better than 50 percent in three straight. UK is 10-1 this season when shooting at least 50 percent
• Kansas won the rebounding 42-31. UK is 1-4 this year when finishing the game at a rebounding deficit
• Kentucky grabbed 31 rebounds, the second fewest in a game this year (29 vs. Louisville)
• Kansas shot .417 (8 of 17) from 3-point range. That’s the second most by a UK opponent this year (Ohio State .500, 9 of 18)
• Ulis had his ninth 20-point, five-assist game of the year. No other player in program history has had more than seven since assists became a stat in 1972-73
• Ulis played a career-high 45 minutes. He’s averaging 40.4 minutes per game in UK’s five losses this season
• Ulis is averaging 21.7 points, 7.3 assists, 2.0 steals and shooting at a 54.5 percent rate against UK’s three ranked opponents this season
• Ulis is the third player at UK since 1972-73 and the first since Roger Harden in 1985-86 to post at least four assists in 14 consecutive games in a single season. Harden’s stretch was 17 games
• Ulis has scored at least 20 points in eight of the last 10 games, the first UK player to do so since Jodie Meeks in 2008-09 (scored at least 20 points in nine games out of a span of 10 games between Jan. 13, 2009 and Feb. 17, 2009)
• Murray is the seventh player ever at UK,and the first since Darius Miller in 2010-11 to make a 3-point field goal in 21 consecutive games in a single season. Miller hit at least one 3-pointer in 25 straight games to end the season
• Murray has scored at least 15 points in each of his first six career games played on the road, the first UK player to do so since Cotton Nash in 1961-62
• A UK player has scored at least 20 points in each of the last 11 games, the longest such streak at UK since 2008-09 (12 consecutive games between Dec. 20, 2008 and Jan. 31, 2009)
• UK has shot at least 52.3 percent from the field in three consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 22-29, 2008

Ulis Named a Finalist for Bob Cousy Award

Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis has been named one of 10 finalists for the 2016 Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Named after Hall of Fame guard Bob Cousy, the annual honor recognizes the top point guard in Division I men’s basketball.

A national committee comprised of top college basketball personnel determined the initial watch list of 20 candidates in October. The final five finalists will be presented to Cousy and the Hall of Fame’s selection committee in March, and the winner will be presented at the ESPN College Basketball Awards Show in Los Angeles on April 8.

Ulis is looking to become the first Kentucky guard to win the award. So far he has the credentials to warrant the honor including , leading Kentucky to a 16-5 record with wins over nationally ranked Duke and Louisville. Ulis is averaging 16.1 points and a team-best 6.2 assists per game, which ranks second in the Southeastern Conference. He’s now scored 20 or more points in four straight games and eight of his last 10, averaging 20.1 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 51.1 percent over the 10-game stretch.

The Chicago native is the only player in the SEC averaging 16.0 points and 6.0 assists or better. He is one of just five players nationally to achieve that feat (Kahil Felder, Oakland; Kris Dunn, Providence; Juan’Ya Green, Hofstra; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State) and the lone underclassman.