UK Men's Basketball

Tenacious Tyler Ulis a game changer for UK against Providence

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis pressured Providence guard Kyron Cartwright.
Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis pressured Providence guard Kyron Cartwright. Herald-Leader

In their most recent one-on-one game, Tyler Ulis beat his 13-year-old brother 21-3.

"It was after Aaron had him three or four to nothing," the brothers' father, James, said. "Tyler, he's competitive. He said, 'I can't let him score anymore.'"

Kentucky fans again enjoyed Ulis' competitiveness Sunday. The freshman's tenacity on defense brought Rupp Arena to life, unnerved Providence and sparked UK's 58-38 victory.

Afterward, both coaches credited Ulis as the difference maker.

"I've had three Chicago guys do what Tyler Ulis did today, which is change the game," UK Coach John Calipari said. Of course, Calipari's other two game-changing Chicagoans were Derrick Rose at Memphis (2007-08) and Anthony Davis at Kentucky (2011-12). Rose and Davis led their college teams to the national championship game.

Calipari's three Chicagoans will be remembered for impacting games differently: Rose as a dynamic and athletic point guard, Davis as a defender and rebounder and now Ulis as a tenacious competitor.

"I think he's a special player," Providence Coach Ed Cooley said of Ulis. "He's got the 'it.' ... He does a good job guarding the ball. He's low to the ground. And he's got some toughness. He's a player that has the ultimate 'it.'"

Cooley did not define "it." The French refer to je ne sais quoi, meaning a quality that cannot easily be described or named.

Mike Taylor, who coached Ulis for Marian Catholic High, sensed what Cooley meant.

"It is a presence,' he said. "People just kind of tend to follow him and feed off him.

"I hate to say it, but I wasn't surprised. He's doing the things we've seen him do for four years."

Sunday marked the first time Taylor had seen live and in person Ulis' impact on the college level. Because of conflicts with his high school schedule, Kentucky-Providence was the only game Taylor will attend this season. "I picked a good one to come to," he said.

Alternating with Andrew Harrison in an offense/defense substitution late in the first half, Ulis forced a five-second call and a turnover on back-to-back possessions.

When Kentucky took control mid-way through the second half, Ulis hit a turnaround floater in the lane, somehow rebounded a missed shot in traffic and hit a short put-back shot and even blocked a three-point attempt.

Providence, which controlled much of a first half played at a possession-by-possession pace, struggled as the game became more chaotic.

Ulis' impact? "Just his energy," Calipari said. "That's all it was. Came in with unbelievable energy and bothered their point guard. Took him out of all the stuff they wanted to run. They couldn't get in a rhythm."

The Providence point guard, Kris Dunn, was a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school. He hadn't played since spraining an ankle a week earlier against Notre Dame.

"Hadn't practiced in the last five or six days, and it definitely showed," Cooley said. "... He just came out of a boot."

Cooley did not mean to diminish how Ulis contributed to Dunn's poor performance: one-for-seven shooting and 10 turnovers.

"Sure, his ball-pressure definitely bothered us a little bit," the Providence coach said of Ulis. "... I thought his ball-pressure when they made their run was the key to this entire game."


Perhaps buoyed by his team's execution of a game plan, Cooley welcomed the chance to play Kentucky again.

"It is our hope that we get to the NCAA Tournament and face Kentucky again," the Providence coach said. "I think our players learned a lot today, our young players in particular."

Providence controlled the pace, especially in the first 30 minutes. UK had only two fast-break points in the first half, and just four mid-way through the second half.

"If you would have told me yesterday that we would come in here and hold this team to 58 points, I'd tell you we'd win the game," Cooley said. "I'm proud of our kids ..."

Carson Desrosiers, the Friars' 7-foot center, liked the idea of a rematch.

"We weren't intimidated," he said. "In the first half, we executed to a 'T.' ... Really, we couldn't have played any better."