It definitely wasn’t pretty, but the Cats took care of business tonight at Rupp, beating Wright State 78-63 to improve to 4-0.
“Only 15 points?!”, you say? After the high of the Duke win, a hangover was to be expected, but ugh. Kentucky looked sluggish, keeping John Calipari out of his seat most of the game, begging his team to show some energy. In the second half, fouls slowed the game down to a crawl, but a win is a win, and there are some positives. Let’s go over it all.
Tyler Ulis is captivating
I could start with the bad things, but why when you have a player like Tyler Ulis? One of the best things about this season so far has been watching Tyler work. He’s an artist on the floor, carving up defenses and painting plays with a fine brush. Tyler had 21 points tonight, his second straight career-high. He also had five assists, two turnovers, and two steals. Most importantly, he held his teammates accountable when they slacked off. For example, this insane pass to Marcus Lee, followed up with some teaching:
Tyler the Creator and the Coach pic.twitter.com/tb8I2o1seI
– Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) November 21, 2015
As Ulis goes, this team goes, which is why Calipari kept him in 36 of the 40 minutes tonight.
“I didn’t want to play him as many minutes as he played,” Cal said. “But I said I want to win a game more than worry about not playing him. If we can’t win without him on the floor, then he’ll be on the floor every minute. And that means someone’s not playing much. When he went out, we let them back in it.”
Wright State Coach Billy Donlon was so impressed by Ulis that he shouted his love across the Rupp Arena media room.
“Tyler Ulis is really good,” Donlon said. “Tyler Ulis, he never panics, he never gets nervous, he makes the right decision every single time. He doesn’t hit home run plays unless it’s a home run. He never strikes out, never. When he comes off a ball screen, he never gets it wrong, and that’s really hard to guard. When he’s in transition, he never gets it wrong. That’s really hard.”
Too much “casual play”
Judging by Calipari’s postgame press conference, you would have thought the Cats lost. That’s how frustrated Cal was with his squad. Cal reamed his team for “a lot of casual play,” telling reporters that Wright State used the perfect game plan to beat the Cats (pack line defense, zone), but missed too many shots to get the upset.
“I don’t think we played particularly well,” Cal said. “We had a lot of casual play.”
The offensive stats: 9 assists, 12 turnovers. Murray accounted for five of those turnovers and only one assist. Ouch. Cue the Calipari “Let’s pump the brakes” speech.
“So again, this is going to be a process, folks,” Cal said. “You tell me that looked like the No. 2 ranked team in the country. We’re — there’s got to be 20 teams better than us right now. Couldn’t throw it to the post. Couldn’t throw it to the post. Skal couldn’t hold a position.”
Is a hangover a good teaching tool?
I know it is for me after a big night out. Not so much for Cal, or if so, he ain’t telling.
“No, I don’t,” Cal said when asked if he secretly wanted a performance like this to humble his squad. “I want us to just keep climbing. We took a big step back. Guys didn’t listen. We’re doing certain things and they just kind of broke it off and did their own thing. In a league game, we lose. Not winning a league game playing the way we played.”
No quick Fat Mo’s cheeseburger, Gatorade, and Advil for this group. Cal’s making them sweat it out.
Jamal Murray got another technical for talking
Murray saw Alex Poythress, Isaiah Briscoe, and Wright State’s Joe Thomasson exchanging words and couldn’t help but get involved, advancing on Thomasson, which got him a quick T from the ref. That’s his second technical foul in only four games for talking. I love Murray, but that’s not good.
“I’m disappointed and I said something to him,” Cal said afterwards. “We’ll address it. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t swear or do anything, he just said, but he walked to the guy when he said something. You can’t — you got to be smarter than that.”
So. Many. Fouls.
Fifty, in fact. Wright State came in with a reputation for fouling and just couldn’t hold their own against UK’s trio of guards, racking up 33 fouls. It made the game unbearable in the second half, but the Cats got plenty of practice at the line; some looked good (Ulis, Murray), some looked bad (Labissiere, Briscoe). That pissed Cal off too.
“Two guys are 20-22 from the line. And three guys are 2-11. I’m sorry — where is Marcus Lee, because I thought he was 0-2. They only have him 0-1. The stat sheet is not right.”
You know it’s bad when Cal’s calling out the stat sheet people, ugh.
Alex got only his third career double-double
If you were worried that flossing with the net in Chicago would make Poythress tentative about dunking, well, don’t. Poythress had a few roaring dunks tonight on his way to 10 points and 10 rebounds, only his third career double-double.
Here’s one of those dunks:
“He’s just got to build on it,” Cal said afterwards. “He had a dunk that he wasn’t athletically ready for. He had the last rebound he tried to grab with one hand. He got beat on the bounce a bunch. But to get a double double and start down this road, let’s go.”
Isaac Humphries and Dominique Hawkins did not play
Humphries was in a boot with a bruised foot and is now considered “day to day,” while Hawkins is under the weather with a stomach virus. Both are expected to be back soon.
This is the best thing to come out of the game
For some reason, the SEC Network folks asked Calipari if he’d rather be on “The Muppets” or “Dancing With The Stars.” Cal said “The Muppets” so he could be one of the co-hosts and chair dance:
Yeah, expect to see that GIF a lot this season.