Ulis, Ferrell Not Dwelling on Individual Matchup
DES MOINES, Iowa – As soon as Kentucky built a comfortable lead against Stony Brook, attention shifted to the most anticipated game of the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
Fans on both sides of the previously dormant UK-Indiana rivalry began talking and media began breaking down the matchup between the Wildcats and Hoosiers.
Brought up most often was the battle on the ball between Tyler Ulis and Yogi Ferrell.
Not surprisingly, the two star point guards were glowing in their reviews of one another.
“He’s a great player, experienced,” Ulis said of the Indiana senior. “I know I have to be prepared to play him. I have to lock in defensively.
“He's been a great point guard all season, leading his team,” Ferrell said. “They have athletic bigs, finds his shooters and he's a great part of that team and he's a big reason why they've been so successful this season.”
The two point guards have a lot in common heading into the showdown between fourth-seeded Kentucky (27-8) and fifth-seeded Indiana (26-7), which will tip off at 5:15 p.m. ET on Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa’s Wells Fargo Arena.
They’re both the most important player on their respective teams in spite of their diminutive size – Ferrell is 6-foot, Ulis 5-9. Ferrell averages 17.1 points per game, Ulis 17.0. Ulis dishes a team-best 7.1 assists per game, Ferrell a team-high 5.7.
“They both lead their teams,” John Calipari said. “Yogi is probably more of a perimeter shooter than Tyler, and I think Tyler is probably more of a mid-range game than Yogi. But I think they both play extremely hard, extremely smart, know how to create fouls, know how to turn down pick-and-rolls, know when to speed up their team and when to say, hold up, guys, let's play basketball here. They're both very, very good players.”
Very, very good players and indispensable leaders.
“He's getting better and better, he had a great reputation as a leader in high school and he's carried that to a high level at the collegiate level at Kentucky and other than that comparison,” Indiana’s Tom Crean said of Ulis. “I don't really have a lot of comparisons that I would compare them to. I love coaching Yogi. I wouldn't trade him for anything and he's gone up against a lot of great guards and led his team against a lot of great teams, especially this year.”
Who gets the better of the two finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award will go a long way toward deciding which of these two bluebloods will play on and into the Sweet 16, but both Ulis and Ferrell understand the game is about more than just them. They are point guards after all.
“I have to be prepared to play, but it's not a one-on-up with match-up,” Ulis said. “We've got to prepare as a team.”
“This is a team effort, 5 on 5,” Ferrell said. “It's not 1 on 1, 5 on 1; this is 5 versus 5. I don't get too hyped up in the matchup, go out, play the same we would have played all year, stick to our strengths, not try to do anything fancy, just try to go out there and get the win.”
Ulis had the same things to say about not getting caught up in a one-on-one matchup, but his nature and history suggest opposing a fellow celebrated point guard like Ferrell will bring a little extra for the fiery sophomore.
“He’s very competitive,” Skal Labissiere said. “Tyler, I remember playing in the summer with him. He tries to win every pickup game. He’s very competitive, so I know he’s going to try to bring it tomorrow.”
The talk ahead of Saturday’s game is vaguely reminiscent of the narrative leading up to UK’s game against Ole Miss and Stefan Moody on Jan. 2. At the time, Moody and Ulis were jockeying for position among the Southeastern Conference’s best guards, but Ulis dominated his counterpart to the tune of 23 points, 10 assists and six steals in a blowout victory.
“He also took on a challenge because everybody is talking about their guard,” Calipari said after the game. “And I knew he did it, I laughed. After the game I said, I know what you did and in front of the team he smiled.”
Though Ulis might take some pleasure in potentially besting Ferrell, it won’t be his main concern.
“I think he is one even this year that if we lose a game, there will be one guy crying and that's him,” Calipari said. “We've lost some games this year and he's tearing up now. So as much as you think it's the mano y mano with him, he wants to win. Last year in this tournament we lost, he was bawling. He was one of the few, but and he one or two of the other guys were crying. But he was -- you know, he wants to win.”