It wasn’t quite the curb-stomping affair we all thought it would be, but Kentucky avenged their loss to Tennessee tonight, beating the Volunteers by a score of 80-70, although the Cats led by as many as 22 in the second half. Jamal Murray and Derek Willis were the stars of the game, scoring 28 and 25 points, respectively. Tyler Ulis had a bad shooting night, only connecting on 3-15 shots for 11 points, but, in true Tyler fashion, he dished out 9 assists.
Let’s break down the rest of it before turning our sights to Texas A&M…
It was a slow start
After blowing a 21-point lead in Knoxville in one of the most embarrassing losses of the season, most of us thought the Cats would come out on fire, but…well, they didn’t. Tennessee actually led the game until Jamal Murray hit a three at the 10:22 mark. If you ever wondered what this team would look like when they’re not hitting their shots, you saw it in the first ten minutes.
Fortunately, Jamal Murray and Derek Willis finally warmed up from behind the arc, scoring eight quick points to spark a 15-1 run to put the Cats up 21-10. Kentucky led the rest of the way.
Jamal Murray almost scored 30
Murray has truly elevated his game over the past few weeks, scoring 113 points in his last four games, including 21-37 from behind the arc (56.8%). Tonight, he had 28 points off 8-12 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds. How good was Murray? He almost got 30 points and only made three threes. Calipari was very pleased with his “big lead guard.”
“It’s exactly what we want. How we want him to play,” Cal said before bringing up one bad three Murray took. “Other than that one, I thought he played an outstanding game. He’s trying to defend better. Couple breakdowns defensively, and it’s mostly that we’re not talking and communicating. But, you know, again, he goes 3 for 6 from the three. That’s perfect.”
Even banged up, Derek Willis set a new career-high
If you listened to his postgame interview, you’d never know that Derek Willis scored a career-high 25 points, including 7 threes. Afterwards, Willis told reporters he “feels like crap,” battling back, knee, and ankle injuries. If you noticed him limping in the second half, that’s because he turned an ankle in practice yesterday. But, because he’s so Bullitt County, Derek said that sitting out Saturday’s game is not an option.
“I don’t think I can take a game off. We’ve got AP out, Marcus is up in the air. We need everyone we can have. Got a tough game Saturday. It’s coming down to the end, just gotta push through it another month and then you get all the rest you want.”
Somebody get that kid a Mountain Dew.
Tyler Ulis had a bad shooting night
Normally, Calipari is full of praise for Tyler Ulis after each game, but tonight, he was upset with him for passing on good shots. Tyler was 3-12 from the floor but did have 9 assists, although that wasn’t enough to save him from Cal’s ire after the game.
“I got on Tyler after the game because Tyler passed on good shots to take tougher shots,” Cal said. “‘Hey, if you go 1-12 and we lose, we lose. You’ve got to take the shot they give you.'”
Even though Calipari was frustrated with his point guard, he maintained that Tyler’s still one of the best players in the country.
“Like I said, I know there are some really good players out there in this country, but he’s got to be in the equation for Player of the Year what he’s doing, the numbers and what he’s doing for our team, phew,” Calipari said.
“And if you don’t think he’s very good, you better hope you don’t play us.”
Isaiah Briscoe shined plenty bright, thank you very much
After Jerry Tipton called him the “lesser” of UK’s three guards, Briscoe came out with something to prove, scoring four quick points in the first four minutes and attacking the glass, leading Kentucky in rebounding with 10 boards. In fact, with Marcus Lee out in the second half, UK’s backcourt did their part on the glass, combining for 23 rebounds.
Marcus Lee sat out the second half with back spasms
I know what you’re thinking: not another injury. After a decent first half, Marcus Lee sat out the second with back spasms, finishing with 4 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes. When asked, Calipari didn’t have much of an update after the game.
“Don’t know,” Cal said. “His back tightened up, so he didn’t think he could go.”
Isaac Humphries stepped up in Marcus’ place and performed ably, scoring 3 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in 16 minutes.
“I thought Isaac was tremendous for the minutes he was playing,” Cal said. “He’s just got to get on the floor more. He’s got to be out there. I thought he tries and he fights so I was happy with how he played.”
What if Alex, Marcus, and Derek are all out on Saturday?
Calipari said that’s a very real possibility, one that looks even more grim when you consider Derek Willis is banged up too.
“If we’re without Alex and Marcus Lee and we go to Texas A&M on GameDay with a day off?” Calipari mused before giving reporters a meaningful glance.
“Not gonna be easy.”
Send your healing vibes to the Joe Craft Center, 338 Lexington Avenue, Lexington, KY 40508.
On to College Station
Sure, tonight’s game wasn’t as exciting as Saturday’s win over South Carolina, but take heart in the fact that, even with several players dinged up and Tyler Ulis not making shots, Kentucky cruised to a win over a team that beat them two weeks ago. Kentucky is starting to roll, and listening to Calipari after the game, you hear hints of swagger in his voice.
“Like this team, I did not think they were ready to say let’s go do this. Then I sat back and I watched and I’m like, they are. They are ready. Yesterday’s practice and the day before, you’re talking about short bursts, let’s go. And again, I think Tyler, they’re feeding off Tyler’s confidence, and he is helping all of those guys be confident. He really is.”
On that note, I need to go pack my bag for the Lone Star state. Tomorrow, I’ll interview De’Aaron Fox in Houston before Saturday’s game in College Station. Because it’s ridiculously far away, I’m not anticipating a huge turnout of UK fans, but the BBN is everywhere. See you there?