For the first 39 minutes and 58 seconds of this game, Tyler Ulis showed the world why he’s one of — if not the — best point guards in the country. Ulis was stupendous, scoring 14 points in the first half and 26 overall. He dished out eight assists, making this his ninth 20+ point, 5+ assist game this season, the most by any player in Kentucky history since they started recording assists back in 1972. Every time Kansas attacked, Ulis responded, either by putting up points himself or putting his teammates in the right positions to score. He practically moved 7-foot Skal Labissiere to all the correct spots, reasoned with referees, and orchestrated the game. When the lights got bright, he got brighter.
For the last 5 minutes and 2 seconds of this game, Tyler Ulis showed he’s human. Ulis had two uncharacteristic turnovers late in the game, the ball inexplicably flying out of his hands as he raced down the court for the game-winner. Anyone who watched the game could tell Tyler was exhausted. With almost all of UK’s post players fouled out, options for scoring became limited, and more than once, Ulis took it upon himself to drive the lane, even if it was full of white jerseys. Ulis is great, but even great players can only do so much.
Even though he gave everything, after the game, Ulis shouldered blame for the 90-84 loss.
“Yeah, those late turnovers weren’t needed,” Ulis said. “I should have just gave the ball up late. Turned it over in regulation at the end, and then late in overtime. That’s just not something I normally do.”
Ulis then asked to be excused because he felt like he was going to throw up. Like I said, he gave everything he had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
The story of the game? Fouls
Kansas was 30-47 from the free throw line tonight, while Kentucky was 13-22. That’s your game right there. Kansas attempted TWENTY FIVE more free throws than Kentucky, and when that happens, it’s kind of hard to win. Derek Willis, Marcus Lee, Skal Labissiere, and Alex Poythress all fouled out, the first three within regulation. Tyler Ulis can do a lot of things, but even he can’t compensate for two giant holes in the middle. With all of the bigs with experience either fouled out or in foul trouble, Kentucky had to play small ball, relying on Dominique Hawkins in his first game back from injury and a cramping Isaiah Briscoe. Kansas outrebounded Kentucky 42-31, a crippling statistic that ranks right up there with the fouls. The Jayhawks’ 47 free throw attempts were its second most in a game in the last 20 seasons.
“We just gotta learn how to play without fouling. That’s something we’ve been struggling with all year,” Alex Poythress said.
If you wanted to pinpoint the minute the momentum shifted to Kansas’ side, it occurred at 4:51 when Derek Willis fouled out. Both John Calipari and Bill Self mentioned that as a pivotal moment in the game, especially when, upon further review, it didn’t really look like a foul. Kentucky held Kansas scoreless from the field for over six minutes, but once Derek fouled out, the Cats became vulnerable, breaking down on defense and stalling on offense.
Wayne Selden, Jr. was unstoppable
…or, at least, Kentucky couldn’t stop him. Selden scored a career-high 33 points tonight, leading Kansas’ rally in the second half. If you had told me that Selden was going to score 33 tonight, I would have predicted a 20-point win for the Jayhawks. So, there’s that.
We got “Good Alex” tonight
We knew going in that, for Kentucky to have a chance, Alex Poythress had to play well, and he did for the most part. Alex finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block. More often than not, he held his own in the post and provided a valuable veteran presence when younger players’ tempers flared on the court. It’s easy to rag on Alex at times, but tonight, he helped more than he hurt.
Heck, even Skal chipped in, providing some crucial points at crucial times; however, he. still. cannot. rebound. ZERO rebounds from a seven-footer. Ugh.
At the free throw line, Briscoe giveth and Briscoe taketh away
Who would have guessed that Briscoe would hit four consecutive free throws to start the game? Not me. Unfortunately, for as good as Briscoe was from the line at the beginning the game, he was bad at the end, missing some crucial free throws in overtime; however, Briscoe was battling cramps and showed some real grit, so I’m not going to pile on him.
There’s still more to learn and time to learn it
Judging by his postgame remarks, Calipari was not happy with tonight’s loss. No coach is ever happy with a loss, of course, but tonight’s game clearly meant a lot to Cal, who used to coach at Kansas and had a chance to knock off the #4 team in the country and almost did it. Calipari refused to accept the moral victory afterwards, telling reporters he was “hacked off” about the loss, which was further proof his team still doesn’t know how to win games.
“No because we’re still doing the same things,” Calipari said when asked if he thought his team took a step forward despite the loss. “It’s losing basketball, it’s Auburn all over again. It just wasn’t the entire game. At Auburn, it was for 15 minutes. Here it was about for five minutes. It was about five or six minutes of losing basketball. All we’ll do is just go possession by possession, is that losing or winning basketball?”
(I love you Cal, but let’s not compare tonight’s performance to the Auburn game, please.) Ultimately, the silver lining in tonight’s storm cloud is time. Forty-six days until the NCAA Tournament, in fact.
“We fought like heck, had our chances to win on the road in this building, and really should have,” Calipari said. “You take an ‘L’ and you go from there.”
The fouls were bad, yes. There were some fatal errors, yes. But taking the #4 team in the country to overtime in their house in January two weeks after one of the most embarrassing losses in recent memory? That makes me excited about March.