Kentucky Opens Conference Play with Ole Miss

Jan. 5, 2015

Kentucky returns from a nine-day hiatus, opening SEC play with Ole Miss on Tuesday, January 6 at Rupp Arena . Tip is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be carried by the SEC Network.

Gameday
Gameday Information
SEC Opener
Kentucky vs. Ole Miss
Tuesday, Jan. 6 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | UM Get Acrobat Reader
Coverage
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Video via SEC Network+
Live Audio
Live Stats
Text Updates
UK Team Stats UM
75.3 Points 73.5
47.8 Opp. Points 64.9
.472 FG% .438
.297 Opp. FG% .372
.321 3-FG% .348
.267 Opp. 3-FG% .331
.662 FT% .784
41.9 Rebs 38.8
31.5 Opp. Rebs. 34.9
16.8 Assists 13.0
11.8 Turnovers 12.4
8.2 Blocks 4.2
8.3 Steals 6.8

Cat Scratches: Ulis and Booker's friendship, fire helping drive UK

For nine days, UK fans have had to live life without watching their beloved (and top-ranked) Wildcats.

The players, meanwhile, surely enjoyed a breather with no classes and no games for almost a week-and-a-half, right?

Wrong.

"It hasn't been a break," Tyler Ulis said.

Instead, the Cats (13-0) have endured the rigors of "Camp Cal" leading up to their Southeastern Conference opener vs. Ole Miss (9-4) at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday. John Calipari has happily filled his team's would-be free time.

"They can't wait for us to go back to school," Calipari said in a video on CoachCal.com. "I can't do three-a-days if they're going to class."

Coach Cal has been demanding, but he's not the only one doing the pushing.

A pair of guards - Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker - haven't allowed their team to take a break either.

"The biggest thing those two add to this team is their absolute competitive fire," Calipari said on Monday's SEC Coaches' Teleconference. "Every day in practice, whatever drill, however we scrimmage, they want to win." ... read the full preview

This Week's News

Cats Deliver Cardinals Their First Loss

  • In a meeting of undefeated teams, Kentucky outlasted the fourth-ranked Cardinals 58-50 in a defensive battle for the ages.
    • The 108 combined points between the two teams is the fewest in the series since Jan. 21, 1922, when the Wildcats won 29-22 (51 total points) in Lexington.
  • UK improved to 13-0 with the victory and 3-0 away from Rupp Arena this season. The 13 consecutive victories to begin the season is the seventh-best start in program history.
  • Kentucky is now 6-1 over its last six games vs. Louisville and 33-15 overall.
  • By beating Louisville by eight points, the Wildcats' school-record run of consecutive double-digit wins to begin the season ended at 12.
  • As has been the case all season long, defense was once again the story for the Wildcats.
    • UK held Louisville to 25.9 percent from the field, the worst single-game field-goal percent for the Cardinals under Rick Pitino, which dates back to the 2001-02 season.
    • It was the eighth opponent this season the Cats have limited to less than 30 percent from the floor and the fourth ranked opponent.
    • Kentucky limited the Cardinals to just one assist for the game, the fewest assists a UK opponent has recorded since at least the 1974-75 season, the first season Kentucky has complete game-bygame assist totals.
    • In holding the Cardinals to 18 first-half points, the Wildcats have held the opponent to less than 20 points in 10 of 26 halves this season.
  • Kentucky's four freshmen -- Tyler Ulis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles -- combined for 39 of the Wildcats' 58 points.
    • Tyler Ulis, who was named the Bluegrass Sports Commission Most Valuable Player, led UK with a career-high 14 points, with 12 of them coming in the second half.
    • Karl-Anthony Towns was UK's second-leading scorer with 10 points, his fifth double-figure game of the year.
    • Trey Lyles tied Towns and Dakari Johnson with a team-leading nine rebounds.
  • The Wildcats continued their recent hot streak from behind the arc, hitting 6 of 14 3-pointers.
  • A close game for most of the afternoon, UK pulled away near the end of the game, leading by as many as 12 points with 4:43 left in the game.

Ulis Named SEC Freshman of the Week

  • Guard Tyler Ulis was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week on Dec. 27 following a career-high 14 points against Louisville.
  • Ulis was named the Bluegrass Sports Commission Most Valuable Player following his performance in the U of L game.
  • The Lima, Ohio native scored a career-high and team-high 14 points, with 12 of them coming after halftime.
    • His five made field goals was a career best.
  • Ulis also dished out two assists with no turnovers in a career-high 26 minutes of action.
  • The honor is the first of Ulis' career.
    • All four of UK's first-year players have garnered at least one weekly SEC honor this season.

Ulis Wins Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Week

  • In addition to SEC Freshman of the Week honors, Ulis was also tabbed the Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Week last week.
  • The award is chosen by CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander, in partnership with the U.S. Writers Basketball Association.
  • Ulis is the first Wildcat to earn a weekly award from the USBWA this season and the first since James Young claimed Freshman of the Week honors on Dec. 31, 2013, following a double-double in last season's regular-season win over Louisville.

Cats Post 3.129 GPA for 2014 Fall Semester

  • For the seventh time in the last eight semesters under John Calipari, the Cats posted better than a 3.0 grade-point average in the classroom. The Wildcats posted a 3.129 cumulative GPA for the 2014 fall semester with 13 of 16 players on the roster earning a 3.0 or higher.
    • The fall 2014 marks include grades from all competing scholarship and non-scholarship players.

Media Opportunity - January 5, 2015

Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari

On how if he felt like once they got Tyler Ulis to commit that Devin Booker was coming ...
"Is that the order it went in? All I know is you have two competitive young people who want to get better. They're a little dinged up right now but they don't use it (as an excuse). They try. They have driven our practices. Now, they're not the only ones. There are times Dakari (Johnson) will dominate. Trey Lyles has gotten so much better in the last three weeks, he's not even the same player he was. It's scary how good he's gotten. But it's nice when it starts on ball pressure. It kind of feeds everyone else. And then the other team sees it and they feed off of each other. The same thing is happening in the game. I mean, both teams are feeding off each other. We don't expect them to make every shot and they're going to turn it over some and they're going to make some dumb plays, but we expect them to compete at a high level, and that's what they've been doing."

On how dinged up they are health-wise ...
"We're OK. I'm fine. I'm walking OK. (Media laughs). We're OK. The normal stuff."

On if Alex Poythress has had surgery yet ...
"He left early this morning. He'll have it tomorrow."

On what things they were working on during Camp Cal ...
"I told you before Louisville - and I talked about it publicly - our defensive rebounding was atrocious. And we zeroed in on it. And now this week, we zeroed in on two or three things. Really one with a couple side items we wanted to make sure we were getting better at. After we get through this week it may shift to something else. What I did with the guards was really a simple thing to get them to think different as they play, which is some of the things I did a year ago.  Tried to get Julius Randle, `Here's how I want you to play. I need you to think different, and you're capable of doing this.' Most of the things I ask them to do are just harder. Yesterday Dakari Johnson ran so hard and posted so hard and scored so quickly that I stopped him. I said, `You could do that, but that's really difficult, so you choose not to. You choose to jog down, catch the ball, ball fake, ball fake, bounce it, bounce it, and not hit the rim. Like, not get it to the rim. The other way is I sprint, I fight, I quickly make a move on one (leg), and I score and I look really good, but that's really hard.' The same things with what I'm asking these guards. Some of the stuff we did as a team was geared toward guard play. Some of the stuff we did individually with the guards - you ready? - I did with the big guys. The same thing I'm teaching the guards right now I'm teaching the big guys. I'm not teaching them, `Here's how we play so you have to be able to do this. This is just playing basketball. To be a good player, you've got to be able to do this, and you're not doing this right now.' "

On keeping the team engaged with everyone picking UK as the favorite ...
"That's the challenge we have right now. One of the things I've done is, I asked them--if you know how I am, this is about these kids. So I went to the kids and said, `What do you want to add to your game? Every one of you here, what do you want to add? Figure it out. Spend a day. If you don't know, ask a coach what you can add to how you play, and then our job will be to help you add to that. Now, you're going to have to work, but if you do add it to your game, I will add it to how we play.' Some things we did with Willie (Cauley-Stein), now we changed a little bit offensively so he can do the things he wants to do and add to his game. But he's going to have to work at it. Why am I doing that? I'm trying to keep them engaged. Why am I focusing on one or two things every 10 days, 12 days, seven days? For the same reason: just got to keep them engaged. It's kind of like when they watch video. If they watch video of themselves, they can stay focused for four hours, five hours, not even go to the bathroom. Just watch it. If they're watching team video, you've got them for about three, four minutes. So part of this is I want them engaged individually. We've got you; you've got to have each other. I know they care about the team. So I'm kind of shifting this away from team and putting this on how do we get individuals better." 

On the two platoons competing against each other in practice ...
"A few days ago, the White smashed the Blue and then two days ago the Blue absolutely smashed the White. They had no chance. That's how it's been and if you don't show (up), then that's what's happening. If one guy on your team doesn't show (up), then that's what happens. When they're really going at each other, what's happening is it's like touch and go and it gets physical and emotional and they talk. Like I told them we've had nine days in between games. We've played each other at least four of those days, which is a heck of a game. We're competing. Again, it comes back to those guards, how they're playing, and how they're challenging. Aaron and Andrew (Harrison) have been better. Trey Lyles is the guy right now that I just see the confidence level, mainly because he's doing it in games - demonstrated performance. He's now believing more and playing harder. They're hooked up to a monitor to talk about how much they exert during a game and how much they sprint. Of the big guys, he's first every game. He sprints. You have to understand, it was only a month ago that I was on him because he wasn't sprinting. Whatever you tell him, he listens to and he does."

On what players getting onto each other and competitive practices does for the team ...
"They're doing it some. There were some other plays where I'm telling the Blue, `Why are you making me tell them? You tell them. I don't need to tell them.' We're still there. That's the point where they're empowered. This team is further along in that than teams I've had here in the past. Let's be real. I finally have a veteran team. If for some reason this goes to two years, hopefully this is what you see every year. Half the team is veteran and the other half is young and you figure out how they play together and you have enough to compete like this. Right now we're losing teams and coming in with new guys so it's hard to empower those guys."

On the conference ...
"Arkansas is ranked. You've got South Carolina getting votes. Georgia is getting votes. LSU is getting votes. It's better than you think. Our RPI is, I think, two or three. South Carolina just beat Iowa State, who was a ranked team. Mississippi State, who they say is struggling, beat Florida State. The league is better than everybody gives us credit for and our teams credit for. For us right now, our focus is on us. Our focus is on how do we improve individual players? How do we get them even closer? Are there small things that we can do to make our team better? Those are areas that we're zeroed in on. If we play really well and lose, I'm going to be fine with it. If we play poorly and win, I'm going to be upset. It means we're slipping. We're focused on us. How do we keep growing? How do we keep going? There may be someone that plays out of their mind. Mississippi is going to shoot 25 threes in this game or maybe more. If they make 20, then we lost our first game. They're shooting 25. Their three guards are their leading scorers and take more than 50 percent of their shots. They offensive rebound 13 or 14 per game. They're going to play a zone where they're changing defenses. It could confuse us. If they're making shots, then we have to try to drive them off the 3-point line. When you're playing teams that are willing to shoot that many, you just don't know."

On if this team is one that wants to learn more than other teams he's had ...
"I told them yesterday, the uniqueness of this group is, I'll come off the road, and it's 11 o'clock at night and we'll have three and four guys in the gym. Alright, granted they walked 12 steps to the gym, ok, so it's not like they had to go cross campus, railroad tracks and getting a bus to get here. Go 12 steps and they're in the building. But, they're here. They're calling coaches to come over. They're getting extra stuff in. They're wired different. They know they've got to continue to work and get better."

On what guys have said they want help with to incorporate certain things into their game ...
"Well, you had Willie (Cauley-Stein), wants to handle the ball more. Ok, then you can't run people over and throw lob passes off the shot clock. But you want to handle it more. Ok, then we're going to get in the gym and work on your handle and we're going to add that in to how we play. But, it's your responsibility. We're going to work with you, then you have to understand, here's how I've got to play if I want to handle the ball more.  Those kinds of things. Dakari  Johnson, `I want to shoot more 12-footers.' Ok. `I want to shoot more around the elbows. I want to shoot more step-outs.' Well, the other day in practice, he made five. Short-corner, short-corner, elbow, guys are going nuts. Now, do I want him off the block? No. But look, this isn't just about us winning. I'll give you an example. They said Dakari Johnson against Louisville, 'He got you 11 rebounds.' Yeah, but he hurt himself because he couldn't get the ball to the basket. He was to slow, he looked slow and unathletic. He helped us win, but he hurt himself. We came back and said 'it's all good, you got us...' Ok, but not for you. So again, this is not just - If I worry about them, believe me, you can't say they're not worried about team and only worried about themselves. You can't. I take it back, you can say it, but then say it over and over and over and hope it's true. But, when you watch this team play, you say 'This is an unselfish group boy, they play for each other.' Well then my job is to coach for them, and that's what we're trying to do."

On if Andrew Harrison listened to the clutter after the Louisville game ...
"I don't think he's listened to it, I know I haven't. All we did is got back to work and you know, made some adjustments for him and the other guards and said 'Ok, this is what works, this is what doesn't work' and keep going. But it's like anything else, I mean, Willie, after that game said 'I played awful.' They're not machines. I say it all the time. He didn't play well. The UCLA game, I wish he could duplicate that 28 times. Guess what? Hard to do."

On what Andrew Harrison wanted to add to his game ...
"He's wanting to do some mid-level pull-ups and some runners in the lane and do all that stuff. I said 'Let's go.' Elbow jumpers, pull up, so there is, some of this stuff I had him go directly to the coaches. Some of the stuff I asked him 'What are you thinking about.' And we did a couple of other things that were geared toward individual players. People might say it's crazy, 'You're at Christmas, talking about individual guys getting better and you're not worried about your team.' They worry about the team. I'm trying to worry about them."

#1, Devin Booker, Fr., G

On being the favorite to win in the SEC ...
"We can't focus on that. I think we have to focus on ourselves like Coach (Cal) stresses to us - to play against ourselves, and you know, whoever's out there, we're not playing against them. We're playing against ourselves."

On how aware he was of Ole Miss when he lived in Mississippi ...
"It's like five or six hours (away). It's not even the closest school to me. LSU's the closest school to where I was from. It's not really close, but obviously there's some Ole Miss fans from where I was from."

On if Ole Miss recruited him at all ...
"They did a little bit, but more Mississippi State than Ole Miss though."

On the offensive work the team's done ...
"I'd say just, overall, execution. Guards finishing at the rim better and just overall execution of our offense - running our plays better, running our sets better, because we're so defensively higher than our offense, so just to get better at offense."

On the minor changes for the guards ...
"Just what I said - just getting in the lane more and finishing around the rim better. I mean, it wasn't really a big change for us, but I feel like it'll help us out a lot."

On seeing guys drive to the basket more ...
"I guess we'll see in the game."

On what he means by finishing better ...
"It's tough to say. I guess - we've been throwing a lot of lobs, so a team is going to back up more, obviously, so the guards are going to have to finish better and that'll open up more opportunities for a lob, but really I guess we'll see in the game if it comes to work."

On what it is about he and Tyler Ulis being so competitive ...
"It's not something that started here. When we were on the same team at camp and stuff we were the same way. We never wanted to lose. We're just two competitive people. Even when we're going against each other, even when we're playing video games, just everything, we're competitive. I guess it was just something that was instilled in us at a young age and we just use it all the time. Coming here, practice is so competitive and it makes us better every day."

On the importance of his friendship with Ulis in transitioning into college ...
"It made it a lot easier. Coming to school, first, it made it a lot easier, you know just someone there that you've been friends with for a while so you can relate. We had to adjust to new things together, so I think it brought our brotherhood together even closer than it was. He's just a special person to be around, and it's his birthday."

On when he first met Ulis ...
"Eighth grade. We were both at the Elite 100 camp and were on the same team and it just went from there. We exchanged numbers and we ended up being on the same team two other times at two other camps."

On his first impressions of eighth-grade Ulis ...
"He's just like he is now. He was still smaller than everybody, but he made the game easier for me, and that's why I loved him. He always found me. I always ran the floor and he'd kick it ahead for me. We just really took over competition, us two together, and he was fun to play with. I got a lot of open looks because of him. He was a warrior like he is now. He used to always get hit by screens, obviously, because he's little, but he'd get back up and play hard."

On hating to lose even at video games ...
"Everything. I don't like losing at anything."

On where that competitiveness came from ...
"I say having an older brother. My older brother in Michigan, he's four year older than me, so growing up he used to beat me at everything and it used to make me mad. And then I got older and I'm beating him at everything now."

On the first time he beat his older brother in basketball being a great moment for him ...
"Definitely. He beat me for a long time, till like my eighth grade year. But when I was a freshman and he was a senior, we got to play on the same team together on the varsity team, so it was a special moment."

On who was the fifth guy on his practice team ...
"It switched between Derek Willis and Dom(inique Hawkins)."

On what it means to him to drive the competitiveness in practice for the team, as a freshman ...
"It doesn't surprise me. I've always been like this, and I've always been told that. It's not something I really notice, but I guess I do it, so I'm going to keep doing what I do."

On if practice being so intense helps to make the team better and to ward off complacency ...
"I think so. I think that's what makes us better. Like we had nine days off and other teams are playing, but in practice I felt like we were playing a game because we're so competitive, no one likes to lose and both platoons go at each other hard and I think that's what's making us better each and every day."

On how it works out wanting to see Ulis do well, but also wanting to do better than him because they're so competitive ...
"We're on the same team. Two platoons, but one team. We go at each other each and every day, but right when we get off the court, we understand that we're the same team and we have the same objective and that's to win. I think we just make each other better when we're that competitive."

On how he and Ulis became a package deal ...
"It started in eighth grade at the Elite 100 camp. We were on the same team. I just enjoyed playing with him. It was a long shot then. I didn't think it was going to happen. I just really liked playing with him. Then when we ended up being on the same team again at another camp, and then another camp, so from there I was like `wow,' I really, really wanted to play with him, but we didn't have the same schools then. And then Kentucky and Michigan State were the two schools really recruiting us hard. We talked to each other each and every day, our fathers spoke to each other, our families both talked and we came up with this as the best decision for us."

 On what Cal has said about SEC play differing from the non-conference play ...
"Every game is going to be a dog fight out there. You know, they have film on us so far because we've been through 13 games this season. No one's going to take us lightly. Everyone knows we're supposed to be the No. 1 team or supposed to run the SEC, so we're going to get everyone's best every night." 

#3, Tyler Ulis, Fr., G

On where his competitive drive comes from ...
"As a child, I was always very competitive and always wanted to win. My family was just like that. That's how I grew up."

On how heated the practices get ...
"It's very heated, very competitive. Everybody's going at each other. It's like a game against ourselves. We're competing out there and making each other better."

On how important it is to maintain that daily competition ...
"It's important because we don't want to get complacent as a team. We want to keep going out there, working hard and have something to look forward to working at."

On how the break between games has been ...
"It hasn't been a break because we've had a couple practices a day, just a lot of basketball stuff. But I feel like we're getting better as a team, so it's been great."

On what Coach Cal has said about SEC season ...
"He says the games are going to be a lot tougher, they're going to come at us more and we have to be ready for that and come ready to play."

On avoiding buying into the hype that Louisville was their hardest game left ...
"You just don't listen to it. You just worry about our team and play."

On what UK learned from the Louisville game ...
"I don't feel like we learned much. We just learned as a team we're willing to fight if we're in that position, and I feel like we did a great job of fighting them back and (not) letting them get in our heads with the pushing and stuff like that. As a team, we played hard and competed."

On Devin Booker also having that competitive fire ...
"We have an understanding. We're both competitive and want to win every time we're on the court. We feed off each other. We've been playing together for a while now. It's just great to play alongside him."

On if they're competitive with each other ...
"Yeah, we're competitive with each other in a lot of stuff. Playing a game, I don't play much, but when I do he talks a lot of trash and stuff. Everything in life we try to compete with each other. It's great."

On how they met each other ...
"We met each other at camp in eighth grade."

On if they then stayed in touch through this time ...
"We stayed in touch. Every camp we went to we ended up on the same team - I don't know if it was purposely - but we were on the same team a lot and we figured we'd just make sure we went to college together."

On if their similar backgrounds played a role ...
"I don't think that changed anything. We just clicked at the beginning and just became best friends from there."

On when they became best friends ...
"Eighth grade. We really liked each other's game and that was more basketball. Once we started talking more and exchanged numbers we just became really cool and decided we'd come to school together."

On if he sees himself in Devin Booker ...
"Yeah, a little bit. We have a couple of the same tendencies. Some differences, we get in confrontations sometimes, but it's a great friendship, he's my best friend, like I said, and I'm just glad I get to play with him."

On what he liked about Booker's game in eighth grade ...
"He could score. I could pass the ball and get assists, I think I led the camp in assists and it was become of him getting buckets."

On what camp that was ...
"Elite 100 in St. Louis."

On transitioning to Kentucky with Booker ...
"It was great. It wasn't as hard as I expected because coming in with him we came in the gym every night, working out, playing one on one. We're just trying to get better and make sure we come out here and we're competitive every day."

On how much they talked during the recruiting process of playing together ...
"We talked about playing together once we talked about and understood what we were going to do. We didn't really talk about it (playing together), but we talked every day though, just about life outside of basketball."

On being a large favorite in the SEC ...
"Well, we really don't pay much attention to it. We're just going to come out and play and not try to feed into everyone else and just play our game as a team."

On the change Coach Cal talked about for the guards ...
"He's just trying to help us draw fouls and not flail into the defenders when we get to the bucket. Basically, just helping us all out a little bit, which has helped. It's changed a lot in practice. We're actually doing great with the adjustments."

On how easy it is to continue to improve despite beating the competition by so much ...
"I feel like we all understand that we need to get better because offensively we know we're not where we need to be. Our defense is very good but we need to execute more, so that's what we're working on."

On how much better they can get offensively ...
"A lot better. I don't think we're near where we can be. We have a lot of miscommunications, and, like I said, we don't execute well. Cal is really stressing that. We're just trying to get it down."

On how nice it is to play with your best friend in college ...
"It's great because when we maybe get into it on the court or something it's not personal. We know we're just trying to do what's best for each other and if I say something to him he understands, he doesn't react like I'm coming off trying to be negative or stuff like that. It helps us out a lot."

On how often they get into it on the court ...
"Not often because we don't mess up a lot when we're together. We just try to play hard. The only time I would get on him is if he doesn't play hard, and like I said, he's competitive so he plays hard most of the time."

On if he knows where Booker is on the court due to playing together so much ...
"Yeah. We play to each other. We have a great chemistry because we've played with each other for a long time together now. It's just great to have that bond."