Murray, Briscoe Step up in Ulis' Absence
Tyler Ulis – Kentucky’s point guard and heartbeat – was headed to the locker room with an apparent arm injury.
UK led South Florida by single digits late in the first half at the time of his departure, and the keys to the No. 1 team in the nation were turned over to two freshmen – Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe.
They handled the wheel just fine.
“We just thought that we have to pick it up and somebody has to take over and lead the team,” Murray said. “That was a very valuable piece that we lost obviously, but we were able to handle it by ourselves.”
The two other Wildcat point guards immediately guided a 12-0 run to close the first half with Ulis sidelined. UK wouldn’t look back from there, coasting to an 84-63 victory over the Bulls, a team led by former John Calipari assistant Orlando Antigua.
“We shut them down for seven, eight minutes,” Calipari said of the run, which was 15-0 including a 3 Ulis made before going down. “That’s what happened. I mean, they hung around and hung around, and then we shut them down for four or five, got a couple breakouts, maybe a couple 3s. All of a sudden it’s 15, you look up it’s 17, it’s 18, now it’s 21. That was it. And again, that’s who we are as a defensive team.”
Between the two of them, Murray was the scorer. He made a pair of baskets during the post-Ulis injury run and scored 21 points for the game, 14 with Ulis sidelined. Briscoe, meanwhile, struggled with his shot in making 3 of 9 from the field, but he did have a career-best seven assists to go with his six points and six rebounds.
Clearly, the two have a background at the point-guard position.
“It was different, but we’ve all—‘Zay and I have played point guard basically most of our lives,” Murray said. “So it was a smooth transition for us and that’s the benefit of having us on the team, three guards on the team.”
Even though Murray and Briscoe are experienced at point guard from their prep careers, having them take over at the position in UIis’ absence was an opportunity for growth. Entering Friday’s game, Ulis had played no fewer than 31 minutes in any game this season, including all but seven minutes of the three Kentucky games decided by fewer than 20 points.
“It’s a good thing to get Isaiah and Jamal some time in there without him,” Calipari said.
Murray was efficient in undertaking more responsibility, but Calipari said Briscoe has some room for improvement.
“I thought Isaiah struggled,” Calipari said. “You’re flipping balls like you’re in a HORSE game. He had like four flips—like he was trying to spin them off the high corner to see if he could knock it in. Like we’re playing Skee-Ball. He had three or four plays that were layups, easy passes and he looked away, wrapped around. But this is a great learning experience for him. He played hard. He did some good stuff.”
Briscoe will surely be better the next chance he gets, but clearly the preference is for him and Murray to return to their former roles as soon as possible. Ulis was diagnosed with a hyperextended right elbow and officially termed day to day and his status for UK’s next game – a Monday matchup with Illinois State in Rupp Arena – is unknown.
“He’s hurt right now, but we’ll see,” Calipari said.