Well, at least that “undefeated” stuff is off the table now, right?
Tonight, Kentucky went into Pauley Pavilion with its #1 ranking and got smacked in the mouth by UCLA, who definitely did not look like a team that lost to Monmouth and Wake Forest. The Bruins avenged last year’s beatdown with an 87-77 win, although it never really felt that close.
“I got outcoached, we got outplayed. Their execution, their hustle, their toughness, there was not one area that they didn’t beat us in, so hat’s off to them,” Cal said. “They beat our brains in.”
Call it revenge, call it jet lag, call it whatever you want, but the Cats were out of sync from the start. Tyler Ulis started despite a sore elbow, which clearly affected his shot. Ulis was only 2-12 from the field; however, he dished out a career-high 9 assists to only 2 turnovers. Marcus Lee also started, but had to leave the game with a mysterious head injury four minutes in. It’s still not clear exactly what happened — Cal said he got hit in the head, others saw a gash over his eye — but whatever it was must have been bad because Lee didn’t return, a crippling blow to the Cats, who were incapable of stopping the Bruins in the paint. That loss was doubly felt when Alex Poythress fouled out in the second half and Skal Labissiere was MIA.
Tyler Ulis told Skal to man up
There’s no denying it: this Kentucky team is soft. Too many times in the first half, Alex Poythress was perfectly set up in the post and couldn’t finish. Too many times Skal Labissiere got pushed around. Too many times Kentucky let UCLA have their way in the paint, a flaw we’ve been able to overlook with shooting in the past but was on full display tonight when the shots weren’t falling.
The worst offender had to be Skal, who had six points and only one rebound. ONE rebound. Meanwhile, the player he guarded, Thomas Welsh, had 21 points and 11 rebounds, only the second double-double of his career. It’s been a rough few weeks for the freshman big man and Tyler Ulis got so fed up with his passive play that he told him to man up:
After the game, Ulis said he was telling Skal to fight for a rebound.
“There was a big rebound we needed. He didn’t get it. I was trying to get him to get the rebound,” Ulis said. “Once he starts fighting for us, we’re going to be hard to beat.”
To put Skal’s woes in perspective, he and Tyler Ulis are averaging 3.9 and 3.6 rebounds, respectively. Skal is 7′. Tyler is 5’9″. As Calipari said, “you’ve gotta fight, you’ve gotta battle.” Some fans are criticizing Ulis for the shove, but not me. If I were Skal, I’d want my point guard to hold me accountable for my play.
“Tyler, he coaches this team as well as I do, so whatever he did, I know he did it with love in his heart,” Calipari said. “He wants the kid to play well.”
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: give me Ulis over any player in the country, even with a bum elbow. That kid’s a leader.
At least Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis came to play
UCLA was the aggressor the entire game, but Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis deserve props for fighting back when most of their teammates shrunk into the shadows. Be it for good or for bad, Briscoe is not scared to drive the lane and put the team on his back when the offense couldn’t do anything. Briscoe led UK in scoring with 20 points off 7-10 shooting and 5-8 from the line.
“Isaiah went to the goal did some really good stuff,” Calipari said afterwards. In fact, when asked, Calipari said Isaiah’s play was the only thing he liked.
“Isaiah getting the ball to the rim was good,” Cal said. “Other than Isaiah, I would say no.”
With UK’s options in the post dwindling in the second half, Derek Willis came in and scored 11 points in the second half, giving the Cats a much-needed boost. Unfortunately, UK couldn’t keep the momentum rolling because UCLA just couldn’t miss. Willis’ performance was enough to earn a “Good game, big homie” from none other than Shaquille O’Neal when he left the court.
I don’t know what’s going on with Jamal Murray
Also baffling: Jamal Murray. Murray had 17 points tonight, but 11 of those came in the final five minutes, 6 off circus threes when the game was clearly over. Where was that the rest of the night? Murray was an atrocious 5-16 from the field tonight. His most telling stat to me? Zero assists and three turnovers in 35 minutes of play.
– Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) December 4, 2015
Clearly the moral of the story tonight is “toughen up.” An okay UCLA team pushed Kentucky around the court tonight, putting up the most points against the Cats in regulation since the 30-point loss to Tennessee back in February 2013. As Briscoe said afterwards, UCLA “gave 110 percent effort for 40 minutes.”
…However, it’s just December and if anything good can come from a loss, it’s resiliency.
“They were tougher, and that’s what we’ve been talking about. That grit, that battle,” Cal said. “This is a tape we can learn from.”
After only the second loss of his college career, Ulis was already looking for positives.
“We learned that we can be beat. Anybody can beat us. We can’t just win off talent, we have to work hard,” Ulis said. “I think taking one early is really going to help this team because sometimes we come out not playing too hard. Guys understand now we can lose. No one wants to have this feeling again. “