Last year, Ole Miss nearly dashed UK’s undefeated regular season dreams behind the hot hand of Stefan Moody, a fact John Calipari hung over his players’ head as they prepared for their conference opener. Thankfully, it was a much different story this go around, as Kentucky’s hard work during “Camp Cal” paid off in an 83-61 rout over the Rebels. At one point, the Cats led by 29.
“Next year I want to be invited to Camp Cal,” Andy Kennedy quipped. “There’s some pointers to be had there, so maybe next time he’ll invite the Rebels up, so hopefully we can get some of what they have going.”
Let’s break it down, starting with the only bad news of the night…
Dominique Hawkins injured his left ankle
Hawkins collided with Ole Miss’ Anthony Perez six minutes into the second half, coming down awkwardly on his left ankle. Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress carried Dominique off the court and he was taken to the locker room in a wheelchair. Dominique did not return, but we’re hearing his X-rays were negative, very good news.
“He hurt his ankle. They said he’s going to be fine,” Calipari said afterwards.
Watching Hawkins go down was tough, but seeing his brothers pick him up and help him off the court was heartwarming:
Tyler Ulis once again stole the spotlight
Ulis followed up a monster game vs. Louisville with another huge performance tonight, putting up 20 points and 10 assists, becoming only the fifth player in Kentucky basketball history to accomplish that feat and the first since John Wall in 2009. Ulis was completely in control on both sides of the ball tonight, calmly and confidently leading his team to the rout. John Calipari said Ulis rose to the challenge of shutting down Stefan Moody after hearing people talk about Moody’s big game in Rupp last season.
“He’s a good player. He also took on a challenge, because everybody’s talking about their guard, he wanted [Stefan Moody],” Cal said. “I knew when I watched how he was playing and what he was doing that — you know, he’s out to prove who he is too, now. I just want a team full of guys that way.”
Ulis’ ten assists are the most by a Kentucky player since Julius Mays in 2012 and his back-to-back 20-point games are the first since James Young. Sorry, Kris Dunn, Imma let you finish, but Andy Kennedy said Tyler Ulis is the best point guard in college basketball.
“I think he’s the best point guard in college basketball. He has the ability to run that team — it’s as if he’s skating,” Kennedy said. “When he makes shots, he’s very, very difficult.”
I like Kennedy’s skating reference, and during the game, I commented that it’s almost as if Ulis is dancing with his opponents, constantly steering them around the court. Whenever he has the ball, I feel good. Whenever he scores, I’m like this:
That first half defense was the best we’ve seen this season
Kentucky held Ole Miss — a team averaging 77 points a game — to 22 in the first half. The Rebels only made 23% of their shots from the floor, and the Cats closed the half on a 27-5 run. Up 20+, the Cats slacked off on defense a little bit in the second half — much to Calipari’s chagrin — but that first half was the best defense we’ve seen all season. Andy Kennedy agreed.
“I’ve done this long enough to realize that action is a lot faster than reaction,” Kennedy said. “And it seems as if we were constantly reacting to Kentucky, thereby getting destroyed on the glass and making poor decisions with the ball.”
Skal was better
When Skal Labissiere checked in and immediately got an offensive rebound and a dunk, 24,000+ at Rupp exhaled. Skal scored 9 points off 4-7 shooting, his best performance since scoring 10 vs. Eastern Kentucky almost a month ago.
“The whole place went crazy,” Cal said of Skal’s dunk. “This whole state — I believe the whole country wants this kid to do well.”
However, Calipari noted that while Skal’s making progress, he’s still got a ways to go.
“It’s a first step,” Cal said. “It’s the first step. There’s still a lot of other stuff still there. But like, I want him to smile and have fun playing.”
Interestingly, Calipari said on his postgame radio show that he’s not coaching Skal as though he’s going to leave after this season.
“I’m not coaching Skal like I did with Karl Towns where I know he is going to leave,” Cal said. “Now I am coaching him like a normal player.”
Odd and ends…
— Marcus Lee played with a protective mask on, which Calipari attributed to nose bleeds.
“His nose has been bleeding and we don’t know if he’s getting hit and that’s why his nose is bleeding, so we just put the thing on so we don’t have to deal with him walking off the court, going in the back saying his nose is not stopping and, so.”
The mask didn’t stop Lee from having another big night. The junior turned in 13 points off 6-9 shooting and 8 rebounds.
— Jamal Murray did good things and bad things. Calipari’s been pushing Murray to make the easy play instead of the hard play, and he did at times, but he’s still a work in progress.
“He’s still — I’m trying to explain degree of difficulty does not get you more points. Like the harder shot you try to take, there’s no four-pointers, unless you get fouled on a three-pointer. So, that’s a hard one for him. I’m trying to get him to just make easy plays,” Cal said.
— Alex and Derek disappointed. After a big game vs. Louisville, Alex Poythress only put up six points, although he had nine big rebounds. Calipari wasn’t exactly pleased with his performance.
“Like Alex, you’re finally breaking through, you’re becoming that elite All-American that we all knew you could be and then you come out and kind of play like, well, what?”
Derek Willis had eight points, including a huge dunk, but Calipari said he can’t keep Derek in because he’s a liability on defense and on the boards.
“Derek just, you can’t — I couldn’t keep him in the game. So now I don’t know if I move Derek out of the rotation, maybe play Charles Matthews as a four man. Let him play some four. He’ll defend, he’ll rebound.”
Yes, we’re nitpicking. Still, isn’t it nice to nitpick over a 22-point win?