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February 13th, 2016

Tyler Ulis leads Calipari-less Cats to statement win over South Carolina

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

There are wins, and then there are wins. Kentucky’s 89-62 beatdown of South Carolina this afternoon was definitely the latter, a stunning performance especially when you consider all of the crazy things that happened during it.

Tyler Ulis is the story

Coming in, we knew this game would be a challenge. Not only is South Carolina an incredibly physical team, they haven’t lost at home this season and just beat Texas A&M and LSU. The atmosphere seemed ripe for an upset, especially after John Calipari got thrown out of the game two-and-a-half minutes in. While most teams would totally fall apart after an emotional moment like that, this team banded together and kept their composure, thanks in large part to a career performance from Tyler Ulis.

“The story is Coach Cal coached the team through Tyler Ulis,” Kenny Payne said afterwards. With Calipari out, Ulis took over coaching duties on offense, a natural move to anyone who’s watched this team this season.

“I never touched on offense, didn’t have to. Between Cal and Tyler Ulis, they’re on the same page. Tyler Ulis ran the offense. Every now and then I may have interjected something, but at the end of the day, it was his show,” Payne said of Ulis.

With Ulis in control of the offense, Kenny Payne focused on defense, and although I love Cal, that coaching duo might give him a run for his money. With Kentucky’s bigs in foul trouble most of the game, Ulis and Payne orchestrated what may be the Cats’ best performance of the season.

“Coaches gave me the green light to call my own plays,” Ulis said.

Can you blame them? Ulis had a red-letter day, scoring a career-high 27 points and dishing a career-high 12 assists. Oh yeah, he had only one turnover. Ulis is now the first player in Kentucky basketball history to have two games of at least 20 points and 10 assists. Today was his fourth career double-double and his 11th 20-point game of the season.

“It’s time to put Tyler Ulis’ name in the mix for College Player of the Year,” Jay Williams said. 

Yes, it is. And no matter how much we love and appreciate him now, it will never be enough.

Ulis is the story of today’s game, but there are some other things to go over, starting with the moment that led to him pulling double duty as coach and player: John Calipari’s ejection.

Calipari got thrown out of the game two-and-a-half minutes in


No one’s quite sure what exactly sparked the confrontation between John Calipari and referee Doug Sirmons. (Or, if they know, they’re not telling.) Initially, Calipari seemed upset with Sirmons for a no-call, but after Sirmons called a technical on him, Cal went beserk, advancing on Sirmons and screaming to the point that Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe had to restrain him. For the second time in two years in Columbia, Calipari was ejected from the game with 17:34 left in the first half.

In moments like this, teams either fall apart or they band together. With Tyler Ulis at the helm, the Cats not only banded together, they took their game to another level. Both Kenny Payne and John Robic said Cal’s ejection lit a fire under the squad.

“I thought it set a fire within our guys,” Kenny Payne said. “I thought they played with ‘You tried to take one of our guys out,’ we’re coming on, we’re going to play with more energy and effort. We’re going to fight more.”

Robic echoed those thoughts, telling Tom Leach, “Cal’s their guy, they play for him.”

A lot of people are saying Cal got thrown out on purpose, but it happened so early that I doubt that. Regardless, seeing that protective, bulldog mentality from the team for their coach is as encouraging as anything. After the game, Calipari tweeted, “I have never been more proud of a team. They are now empowered. They’ve proven that they don’t need me and I love it.”

Considering the team’s he’s coached, that is some high praise.

After dropping a zero, Marcus Lee became a hero

Kentucky wore special edition Nike jerseys today, and for some reason, Marcus Lee’s only had a single zero on it instead of his normal double-zero. Well, like John Robic said after the game, Nike better send Marcus a new version of his normal jersey with a single zero, because after that performance, he’s not allowed to go back. Lee was fantastic, scoring 11 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, his third double-double of the season, and first since the Illinois State game on November 30.

“I’m so proud of him,” Payne said of Lee, who only had two fouls in 36 minutes. In a game in which fouls were a major story, that last stat may be the most important. Lee spoke for everyone when he told reporters, “Not fouling feels awesome.”

Tyler Ulis certainly seemed happy to have Lee back on point, delivering him two beautiful passes on a platter, this one off the backboard:

I could watch the bench celebrating after that dunk for the rest of the day.

Jamal Murray’s dunk was better

It’s insane that I’m 900 words into this recap and am just now getting to Jamal Murray’s dunk. Normally, it would be the story of the game. Murray posterized poor Justin McKie, adding insult to a very rough day for the Gamecocks. Murray finished with 26 points, yet another impressive performance. He’s on fire lately.

This was a statement game

With their coach in the locker room, Doug Sirmons on the whistle, bigs in foul trouble, and South Carolina ready to go blow to blow, Kentucky could have shrunk into the shadows. Fortunately, Tyler Ulis and the Cats had other plans.

“Kentucky came in here and proved a point and put a couple black eyes on us.” Frank Martin said. “Their resolve and their will was a lot stronger than ours.”

The Cats are now tied with LSU for first place in the SEC. There’s plenty of basketball left to play, but today’s performance has to make you feel good about March.

For now, take a bow, Tyler.

Listen to the postgame show; everybody’s doing it (really)

The KSR postgame show is currently the No. 1 streamed show in America with over twice as many listeners as the next show on the list.

If you’re not already tuning in, turn your radios and your radio streaming devices to 630 WLAP in Lexington or 840 WHAS in Louisville to hear what Matt Jones and the KSR callers have to say about Calipari’s ejection and the big win.

Or if you would like to be heard, give Matt a call at 1-800-444-8484 or 502-571-8484.

Listen online here.

Discuss below.

Ulis and Lee on the win, playing without Cal and that lob off the backboard


Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee took questions following Kentucky’s win in Colonial Life Arena. Here’s a brief rundown of their comments and then you can hear/see it all for yourself below:

— Ulis had the green light to run the offense in Calipari’s offense.

— Lee thought it was “awesome” to not battle foul trouble again.

— They talked about the backboard lob before pulling it off.

— Ulis thought it was the best the team has played across the board all year. “Definitely,” he said.


Come get your new SEC standings

Mark Zerof | USA Today

Mark Zerof | USA Today

Finally, all is right in the world.

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The King is back on its throne.

ESPN’s video recap of Kentucky’s “dunk contest”

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ESPN had a little fun with the highlights from today’s win in Columbia. The network took some of the Cats’ best dunks and spliced in old NBA dunk contest reactions to create Kentucky’s own dunk contest.

How do you score each dunk and which was your favorite?

Is that Coach Cal?


I was looking through Chet White’s photo gallery over at and noticed something suspicious in a shot of the South Carolina crowd.

Is that… Cal?




Payne: “Coach Cal coached the team through Tyler Ulis”


Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne slid over to the big chair after John Calipari’s early ejection, but he doesn’t want credit for coaching the team to its 27-point win at South Carolina.

In the postgame press conference, Payne admitted he did not coach Kentucky’s offense in the game. He focused on defense and rebounding, and left the offense to its point guard, Tyler Ulis, who is a mini-Calipari in a UK uniform.

“One of the telling things about this game is you saw the influence of what Cal has been teaching offensively,” said Payne. “I never touched on offense, didn’t have to. Between Cal and Tyler Ulis, they’re on the same page. Tyler Ulis ran the offense. Every now and then I may have interjected something, but at the end of the day, it was his show.”

Ulis said the coaching staff gave him the green light to call whatever he wanted to call, occasionally taking suggestions from John Robic. But it was Ulis who ran the offense, which wasn’t any different than if Cal had still been on the sideline.

“The story isn’t someone else coaching the team,” Coach Payne said. “The story is Coach Cal coached the team through Tyler Ulis.”

Box Score: Kentucky 89, South Carolina 62


Kentucky takes first place in the SEC without John Calipari


John Calipari felt like two minutes of coaching was all he needed to do in today’s game as he called it quits very early on, leaving Kenny Payne (and Tyler Ulis) to run the show.

Kentucky did just fine without its head coach, taking the top spot in the Southeastern Conference with an 89-62 win at South Carolina.

Ulis and Jamal Murray were terrific. They combined for 53 points; and with another 10 from Isaiah Briscoe, the Kentucky starting backcourt outscored the Gamecocks entire team.

Plenty more to come. (Hopefully from Calipari.)

Jamal Murray posterizes South Carolina’s Justin McKie

There was a scary moment a few minutes ago when Jamal Murray fell on his hand and crumpled in pain. Murray was able to shake it off to hit a free throw, but went to the bench immediately to get it checked out. A few minutes later, Jamal showed us that he’s doing just fine with this posterizing dunk over Justin McKie:

Another view:

Unbelievable. Right now, I really like my team.

Ulis to Lee gets the sideline going crazy

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Kentucky’s rolling in the second half, currently up 55-31 on the Gamecocks. There have been a lot of big moments so far, but this dunk by Marcus Lee off the backboard from Tyler Ulis may be the best:

Here’s Tom Leach’s call of it:

If that doesn’t have you celebrating like this, I don’t want to know you:


Kentucky vs. South Carolina (Second Half Comment Thread)

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What a first half. First, John Calipari gets ejected after going absolutely ballistic on Doug Sirmons. Most teams would have fallen apart after an emotional upheaval like that, but not with Tyler Ulis at the helm. Ulis held his composure and kept the team together, pushing them to playing some of their best basketball of the season. Kentucky leads 41-27 at half.

The only problem? Foul trouble. Both Skal Labissiere and Isaac Humphries have three fouls, while Derek Willis has two. Surprisingly, Marcus Lee only has one. Lee has been fantastic so far, scoring 6 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in the first half.

Keep rolling, boys. Don’t let off the gas.

Doug Sirmons isn’t a popular guy on the internet right now

Doug Sirmons was out of line. Even the South Carolina fans around me feel bad for John Calipari and Kentucky after Calipari was tossed two minutes into the game at the hands of Sirmons. Sirmons sprinted all the way across the court to give Calipari his first technical, then quickly gave him a second and sent him back to the locker room. Those two have never been on good terms, and Sirmons took their hatred for one another to the next level today.

Former Tennessee head coach Buzz Peterson called it “absolutely embarrassing to college officiating.”

The rest of the internet went even further:

Sirmons was trending nationally on Twitter, which is never a good thing if you’re an official.

VIDEO: Calipari ejected from the South Carolina game

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Well, that escalated quickly. Two and a half minutes into the game, John Calipari completely lost it after South Carolina’s Michael Carrera crashed the boards. Doug Sirmons called a quick technical on Cal, after which Calipari became furious and his players had to restrain him, leading to a second technical foul and the ejection. Watch it all go down:

Here it is from Drew’s point of view in Columbia:

This is Calipari’s second ejection at South Carolina in the past two years, the first coming in 2014 during the loss after which Aaron Harrison famously predicted that the rest of the season could still be a “great story.”

What is it about Calipari and Columbia?

College GameDay coming to UK at Texas A&M

gameday philellsworth espn images

There’s plenty to take care of first, but it was just announced that ESPN’s “College GameDay” is coming to College Station for UK/Texas A&M next Saturday. A little birdie told me this was a strong possibility, but it just makes a big game even bigger for the Cats.

First things first. Beat the Gamecocks.