Career days from Willis, Ulis not enough to save Cats


Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis (3) gets past Auburn guard TJ Lang (23) during the second half of the NCAA basketball game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Auburn Tigers at the Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala., on Friday, Jan. 15. (Dakota Sumpter | The Auburn Plainsman)

Anthony Crawford

Coming off a narrow victory in Rupp Arena against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, No. 14 UK would not be as lucky on the road in its matchup against the Auburn Tigers. The Cats were unable to deny the upset bid, as Bruce Pearl’s club would come away with a 75-70 victory.

The first half started great for Cats as Jamal Murray got the ball rolling with two threes. From there scoring would become more difficult for both teams as neither shot above 35 percent from the field in the half.

Despite the low shooting percentage, the game plan for the Tigers was clear as they took 16 three point shots, but were only able to convert on six of them.

Murray would lead the Cats in scoring in the half with 10 points, but it was Mt. Washington-native Derek Willis who was the most important player for UK.

The junior forward responded to criticism John Calipari, who called into question the play of all of UK’s frontcourt members, and Willis’ defense especially.

Willis only scored seven points in the half, but his effort and intensity was much better. He pulled down a career-high eight rebounds in the first half alone, and came away with a steal and block on the defensive end.

Calipari rewarded Willis’ effort by starting him over Lee coming out of halftime, and from that point on it seemed like UK was starting to figure things out and would pull out the road SEC victory. 

The Cats built their largest lead of 12 after a set of Tyler Ulis free-throws around the 16-minute mark. That was when the game took a similar note to the Cats matchup with Mississippi State.

UK then went 2-13 from the field, and allowed an 18-to-4 run by the Tigers. The run was capped off by a three banked off the backboard by Kareem Canty, who led Auburn in scoring with 26 points in the game.

Canty and the rest of the Tigers caught fire from three in the second half going 6-for-10 from behind the arch.

After falling behind, UK turned to Ulis, its sophomore leader. The 5’8” point guard played far from undersized as he had no trouble driving inside and helping on the glass as he was able to pull in a career-high ten rebounds to go along with 17 points and eight assists.

Despite the great efforts from Ulis and Willis, the three point shooting of Auburn would prove to be to much, and the Tiger would go on to beat UK for the first time since 2000.

Other Notes:

  • Willis finished the game with 12 points and 12 rebounds marking his first double-double at UK.
  • Jamal Murray finished the game with 20 points while going 4-10 from three-point range. This makes the fourth straight game he has scored 20 points or more.
  • Junior guard Dominque Hawkins dressed for the game but did not play for the fourth straight game coming off an ankle injury suffered against Ole Miss.