Big Blue Bahamas notes: Freshman Ulis impressing with toughness

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 12, 2014 

NASSAU, Bahamas — With about seven minutes left in the first half Tuesday, an unsuspecting Tyler Ulis crashed into a much bigger player setting a solid screen. The Kentucky freshman crumpled to the court.

Any immediate concern for Ulis' well being quickly faded as he picked himself up, presumably cleared any mental cobwebs, and threw a lob that Derek Willis dunked. Crash. Recovery. Counter. All within 20 seconds. No better example this day of how you can't keep a good man down, even one who is only 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds,

"I didn't know what to expect from him knowing he's smaller," Marcus Lee said of Ulis. "But he's a bulldog inside. He'll never back down. He doesn't back down from anybody. That's what I love about him."

Ulis, a freshman point guard from Chicago, made that emphatically clear by standing up to DeMarcus Cousins in a pickup game sometime last school year.

"And DeMarcus Cousins is a big person," Lee said of the former UK manchild circa 2009-10. "I wouldn't do nothing like that. But (Ulis) had that fight. 'No, I'm not backing down from you.'

"I'm like, all right. Let me help you. Let's back it up. But he wasn't (going to acquiesce)."

At this point, Willis said of Ulis, "He's an extremely tough kid (slight pause) for his size."

John Robic, who directed the UK team as Coach John Calipari watched the game from the bleachers, said the play in which Ulis crashed blindly into a pick was discussed at halftime.

"Big man's fault," Robic said without identifying the guilty party who failed to call out the imminent screen.

"That just can't happen," Robic said.

Getting better

By winning 93-57 over the reserves of the Puerto Rican National Team, Kentucky improved its average margin of victory in the first three exhibitions here to 28 points.

"The nice thing is I think we're getting a little better every game," Robic said.

The spacing when UK went to a zone was better, Robic said. The Cats handled pick-and-roll action better.

Noting that the improvement came in areas discussed during a review of game video earlier in the day, Robic said, "It's nice to see they're paying attention. They'll just keep getting better and better that way."

'Rebuilt engine'

For a third straight game, Alex Poythress scored double-digit points. He's averaging 13.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in those games.

"His confidence has to be through the roof," Robic said. "He just does things athletically that you can't teach, and you don't see very often. And he's trying to do them more. Really without us saying nothing about them. He's playing above the rim by himself a lot of times."

Of course, Poythress showed flashes of brilliance in his first two UK seasons. But there was no consistent production.

"You said the key word: that's his motor," Robic told a reporter. "It's like a rebuilt engine, and he's flying right now."

No-look passes

With the rout of the opposition well underway, UK gave in to the temptation to get fancy. A no-look pass here, a behind-the-back pass there.

Robic sounded unimpressed. Noting the upcoming regular season, he said, "I don't think we'll be seeing a whole lot of no-looks."

Bonding

Robic got down to a basic rationale for Kentucky's trip to the Bahamas.

"Any team that takes a foreign trip, it's a bonding trip," he said.

UK's off-court bonding may take precedence on off days Wednesday and Thursday. Players are scheduled to distribute shoes at a Nassau church Wednesday as part of the Samaritan's Feet charity. There's a catamaran ride planned for Thursday.

Robic said he's noticed the players doing things off court together even when it's not required.

"I don't think we need a whole lot of help with (bonding)," he said, "because we've been together for 10 weeks, now."

Lee and Willis spoke of wanting to go down a giant slide at the Atlantis Resort's water park. Willis said he'd already tried it.

"I went airborne on it," he said. He said he flung himself from the top without realizing the angle of descent. "I was airborne through a fair amount of the slide," he said.

Of the two days without games, Lee said, "We're going to walk around, enjoying things we haven't seen yet and experience new things."

Times set for SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Tip-off times and TV networks were announced Tuesday for the 2014 SEC/Big 12 Challenge basketball showcase.

Kentucky's game against Texas in Rupp Arena on Dec. 5 has been set for 7 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.

This is the second consecutive season that the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 have met on the hardwood in an inter-conference event. Ten schools from each league participate each season.

Here is the complete schedule:

DEC. 3

9 p.m. — Auburn at Texas Tech (SEC Network/ESPN3)

DEC. 4

7 p.m. — LSU at West Virginia (ESPN2)

7 p.m. — Baylor at Vanderbilt (ESPNU)

9 p.m. — Arkansas at Iowa State (ESPN2)

9 p.m. — TCU at Mississippi (ESPNU)

DEC. 5

7 p.m. — Texas at Kentucky (ESPN)

9 p.m. — Florida at Kansas (ESPN)

9:30 p.m. — Missouri at Oklahoma (ESPNU)

DEC. 6

Noon — Oklahoma State at South Carolina (ESPNU)

3:15 p.m. — Kansas State at Tennessee (ESPN2)

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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