Ulis Keeps Doing It All as Cats Down Gators
While Jamal Murray was going off, Tyler Ulis was just going about his business.
While his backcourt mate hit seemingly every shot – often with Ulis feeding him – Kentucky’s point guard ran his team, picked his spots and missed nearly as infrequently.
Overshadowed as he might have been by the 35-point explosion Murray made look easy, Ulis was awfully good himself.
“I thought Ulis really controlled the entire first half, offensively and defensively,” Florida head coach Mike White said. “He didn’t allow our guards to even get into ball screens defensively. I thought he put on a clinic, some of those things that won’t show up in the box score offensively. He runs the show. He makes you defend on the ball, off the ball.”
Ulis had his third double-double on Saturday, helping guide No. 20/19 UK (17-6, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) to an 80-61 win over the Gators (15-8, 6-4 SEC). He had 15 of his 18 points in a dominant first half by the Wildcats – UK led 24-5 early and 50-32 at half.
The win was important, as UK had lost its previous two games. Ulis, the undisputed team leader, didn’t go all rah-rah to inspire the bounce-back effort.
“I didn’t really give a message, but we understood as a team we have to come out and play,” Ulis said. “We can’t give up games at the end like with Kansas. We were in the game, we had it, and then at the end, we gave it up. Then with Tennessee, we went up 20 and let them come back.”
In typical form, Ulis found a perfect balance between distributing and scoring. He had 11 assists – six of which went to Murray – as UK shot 51.7 percent and tallied 1.23 points per possession against a Florida team known for making life difficult on penetrating guards.
“I told Tyler this is a 15-assist game for you because of how they play,” John Calipari said. “It's old school. You're not getting to the rim. And he had 11 assists. I said, you didn't quite get 15, but you had 11.”
On the other side of the floor, Ulis set a similarly strong tone.
The only box-score evidence of his defensive day is the two steals he snagged, but anyone with a trained basketball eye could see the way Ulis disrupted the Gators in the half-court. White certainly could.
“There were three or four plays that we called that were quick hitting or with some movement in the first half that Tyler just blew up with the pressure on the basketball,” White said. “I thought there were, again, six or eight ball screens that we set for our point guards in the first half that Tyler didn’t even allow us to get to the screen, didn’t even allow us to get that rub which would lead to the next action.
“When he’s picking you off at half-court and using that and sitting in that stance and using his quickness he’s got, and he’s got the ability to do that.”
Ulis was excellent in all facets, combining shooting, passing and on-ball pressure. But perhaps most impressively, he has been so outstanding over the second half of his sophomore season that such a performance was surprising to no one.
Over his last 12 games, Ulis has had at least five assists every time out and 20 or more points nine times. During the stretch, he is averaging 19.9 points and 7.3 assists, all while playing nearly every minute.
Murray, whose chemistry with Ulis is improving by the game, is often the beneficiary of the 5-foot-9 guard’s dynamic play. That was especially true on Saturday, as Ulis made it easy for Murray to make it look easy.
“We do a lot playing off each other,” Murray said. “He’s a great facilitator for the team, makes sure everybody’s in place and everything. I just kind of play off of him and try and knock down shots and help him a little bit.”