No. 23 Kentucky moved to 15-4 and 5-2 in the conference today with a very convincing win over a good Vanderbilt team. The Cats cruised past the Commodores to a 76-57 finish in a game many predicted would be close throughout.
That was not the case, however, thanks to yet another outstanding performance by Tyler Ulis and many members of his supporting cast. It was an all-around good game for Kentucky and one it really needed with a road trip to Kansas only a week away.
But before we look forward to Wednesday’s game at Mizzou and that trip to Lawrence, let’s chat a little bit about what we saw today in a surprisingly packed Rupp Arena.
‘Nother 20-point game for Tyler Ulis.
Ulis scored a game-high 21 points in the win for his sixth 20-point performance in the last eight games, dating back to his Card-killing afternoon against Louisville in late December. He is averaging 19 points, seven assists and under two turnovers per game in that stretch, while shooting almost 50 percent from the field.
There’s no doubt Ulis is the best point guard in the country right now, regardless of what Dan Dakich says, and we’re damn sure glad to have him in Lexington. He is just an unbelievable basketball player with a basketball IQ unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time. Calipari realizes that more than anyone; he said he consults Ulis like he would an assistant coach. Ulis is such a special, special point guard.
Jamal Murray added 18 of his own.
Murray hit seven of his 13 shot attempts for 18 points in a very efficient game offensively, which isn’t always the case with his game. Afterward, Coach Cal said Murray played winning basketball and made winning plays, something the coaching staff really stressed throughout the week.
These two were pretty nice:
Derek Willis led the team in rebounding. Again.
Willis was Kentucky’s star on the glass for a third consecutive game, hauling in nine rebounds to lead the Cats in that category. He couldn’t get his shot to fall, but the way he defended and rebounded will earn him even more playing time and, possibly, a permanent spot in the starting rotation.
Calipari told him the missed shots are okay as long as he continues to do well in the other, more important aspects of the game, as he did today. He has really stepped up to the challenge since Cal blasted him for his poor defense in the week leading up to Auburn.
Vanderbilt’s bigs could not stop Alex Poythress.
Poythress scored 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field in one of his better offensive games of the season. He fought for buckets inside and even knocked down a midrange jumper to force Vandy’s bigs to respect his shot.
With Poythress providing a scoring threat down low, it really made things easier on Murray and Ulis. One of Kentucky’s major problems this season has been being too reliant on guard play when there is no help in the frontcourt. Today we saw how good they can be with a legitimate weapon inside.
Skal Labissiere was a non-factor.
Two days after reaching double-figure scoring at Arkansas, his first time in double digits in a month and a half, Skal Labissiere reverted back to his former self. Labissiere did not have single point or a single rebound in only four minutes.
Calipari explained Labissiere’s limited action, saying, “I just didn’t think this was the right game for him because of how these guys play. They’re older inside. They’re bigger, they shoot threes… but he’s fine.”
Kentucky shot 55 percent from the field.
That’s the best in SEC play. UK is 9-0 on the season when shooting at least 50 percent.
“Anybody that thinks this team is not getting better, you’re not watching.”
The full quote from Calipari:
Anybody that thinks this team is not getting better, you’re not watching. Dickie V came in and talked to me, said you know this is one of your teams that’s not getting better. I said, so you’re not watching college basketball that much. Like, what are you talking about?
Well, the Duke game. The Duke game, they spread the court out. It was a different game. You got a lot of people packing and I’m trying to figure out when they do certain things how do we play. This team is getting better. Derek Willis is better. Tyler better. Jamal’s better. Isaiah’s better. They’re all better. Skal is better. Alex is better. Marcus Lee’s got to get back to where he was, but he’s now starting to get better.
The win was Calipari’s 100th in the Southeastern Conference.
Cal is the second-fastest coach to reach 100 wins in the league at 125 games. Only Adolph Rupp did it faster, reaching the 100-win plateau in only 119 games.