Ulis’ career day helps UK best Rebels

Guard Tyler Ulis of the Kentucky Wildcats drives up the court during the first half of the game against the Hampton Pirates at KFC Yum! Center on Thursday, March 19, 2015 in Louisville , Ky. Kentucky leads Hampton 41-22 at halftime. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Anthony Crawford

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The break UK has between the UofL game and the start of the SEC schedule is always referred to as “Camp Cal” by the media and John Calipari himself. The break gives him time to really work with the team through vigorous practices of two-a-days and sometimes even three-a-days. It would seem after the dominant performance put on by the Cats against the Ole Miss Rebels in an 83-61 victory, that “Camp Cal” worked dividends.

Coming into the game there was still a lot of questions surrounding UK. The two biggest ones were the confidence and overall play of Skal Labissiere and the basketball IQ and shot selection of Jamal Murray.

For Labissiere, the downward spiral started in mid-December as he only had four points in his last three games to close out the year. The freshman doubled that and more as he finished with nine points, three rebounds and more importantly, showed more of the fight that Calipari wants from him.

“It’s a first step,” Calipari said. “It doesn’t matter what we hope for. He’s going to have to go do it.”

The long forward wasted no time getting the crowd behind him as he checked in at the 14-minute mark in the first half and immediately got an offensive rebound and a dunk to bring them to their feet.

“I believe the whole country wants this kid to do well,” Calipari said. “I told him, you’ve got to unpack the bags, live in the moment, enjoy this thing, there’s no timetable to this.”

Unlike Labissiere, December was up and down for Murray. The biggest high being his 33-point out-pour in the loss against Ohio State, in which he was 7-of-9 from behind the arc. His low being in the Louisville game when he had seven turnovers.

There’s no doubt that Murray is a special player, but getting him to play simple is what will be best for him and the team.

“I’m trying to explain degree of difficulty does not get you more points,” Calipari said. “Like the harder the shot you try to take, there’s no four-pointers, unless you get fouled on a three-pointer.”

The freshman guard interrupted a streak of poor shooting first halves, by shooting 3-of-6 going into the locker room. Murray stayed on track in the second finishing with 18 points, three assists, and improved greatly in taking care of the ball by only having two turnovers.

“He’s got habits he has to break. But let me just say this, he’s one of the best players in the country,” Calipari said. “He gives us another guy that can make three-pointers, that spreads the court out, he’s a terrific passer. This is all new to him.”

If those two player can turn it around for UK, then they can be one of the best teams in the nation, but they will be always be a great team when they have sophomore Tyler Ulis running the show.

The point guard followed up his MVP performance against Louisville with 20 points, 10 assists, and six steals. Ulis’ career-high day in assists and steals proved again that he is one of the best players in the nation.

“I think, for my money-and I watch a lot of basketball and don’t want to misspeak- but I think he’s the best point guard in college basketball, is what I think,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said.

Ulis also spear-headed UK’s great defensive efforts as he had the challenge of guarding the SEC’s leading scorer in Stefan Moody.

“He’s a good player. He also took on a challenge because everybody is talking about their guard,” Calipari said of Ulis.

While Moody did reach his scoring average with 23 points, Ulis forced many tough shots and walked away the definitive winner in the matchup.

The rest of the Cats followed suit, as UK turned in its best defensive half in the first half against Ole Miss. The rebels were held to 23% shooting from the field and coughed the ball up ten times.

It was during that great defensive play when UK really ran away with the lead. The Cats were able to go on a 27-5 run to make it 41-16 with 7:56 to play in the first half.

Other Notes:

  • Dominque Hawkins left the game in the 2nd half after going down with an apparent ankle injury.
  • Marcus Lee finished the game with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and eight rebounds. This marked the eighth game this season that he has reached double-figure scoring.
  • Charles Matthews saw significant minutes at the four position and Calipari mentioned after the game that this is a lineup UK might use more in the future.
  • UK won the rebounding battle against Ole Miss 41-27.