UK Men's Basketball

Ulis comes up big as UK basketball cruises to 76-57 win over Vandy

Since every story about Kentucky’s point guard must include a reference to his height, let’s just say a little Tyler Ulis went a long way Saturday.

Ulis scored, passed, defended and, perhaps most importantly, led Kentucky to a surprisingly one-sided 76-57 victory over Vanderbilt.

“Ulis was probably the most dominant player on the floor for either team,” Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said. “I thought he played better than probably anyone.”

A moment later, Stallings became that rare basketball person to suggest a lack of size is an advantage. Then again, Ulis may be a one-of-a-kind player in the history of UK’s storied program.

“He actually utilizes his size to his advantage,” Stallings said. “He creates advantages with his stature. That’s a unique skill.”

Asked to explain how being 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds was an advantage, Stallings said, “He’s able to change directions faster. He’s able to get guys out of position, get them off balance, and get his body on their body and create contact … He just understands how to take what he has and utilize it to its fullest advantage. That’s why he’s such a good player.”

Teammate Alex Poythress, whose 16 points were only three shy of what he’d scored in the three most recent games, had no problem accepting the idea of Ulis making his lack of size an advantage.

“I mean, he’s been that size all his life,” Poythress said. “He should be able to use it.”

UK Coach John Calipari cautioned reporters about taking the small-is-good idea too far.

“For some reason, I betcha he would rather be 6-4,” Calipari said. “I don’t know that. But I’ll probably have to ask him that.”

Ulis did not confess to a desire to be taller.

“No, I’m good with what I got,” he said. “I was blessed with the gifts I have. And that’s what I have to work with.”

While conceding that being 6-5 would be good, Ulis said he did not wish to be that tall.

“I am who I am,” he said.

Obviously, when Calipari recruited Ulis out of Chicago, he noticed the player’s size. He signed him anyway, perhaps because Ulis was as big as any of the previous star point guards (Brandon Knight, John Wall, Derrick Rose) in one critical way.

“He had the heart of a lion,” Calipari said. “And I’ll put enough big guys around him, he’ll be fine.”

In the victory over Vanderbilt, Ulis had a team-high 21 points and five assists. But it might be how Ulis leads that goes unnoticed. It’s hard to quantify with numbers.

Calipari captured this quality by noting how readily he accepts Ulis’ advice. The mind drifted to the shove Ulis gave Skal Labissiere during the UCLA game with Calipari saying afterward that Ulis was the better coach.

For instance, Calipari gave Ulis credit for suggesting to assistant coach Kenny Payne that Labissiere would be better used as a face-the-basket player on offense.

“They were trying to get guys to fight like they did last year with Karl (Anthony Towns),” Ulis said. “Karl, he was a monster in the post.

“Skal is a different type of player. So, getting him picking and popping, he’s going to get a rhythm.”

A telling moment against Vanderbilt came with 6:58 left in the first half. Ulis picked up his second foul. With UK ahead 29-16, Calipari sat Ulis. A comfortable lead and the Cats clearly outplaying Vandy afforded Calipari the option of sitting Ulis.

Plus, it had to be a good idea to give a respite to the player leading the Southeastern Conference in minutes: 38.6 per the first six league games.

Coincidentally, Vandy reduced the UK lead to single digits within 90 seconds. Calipari returned Ulis to the game with 4:40 left in the half.

“Game got close,” Calipari said. “Hey, man. I’m putting him back in. Don’t foul. How about that thought?”

No one in the postgame news conference protested. A game had to be won.

Of course, Ulis welcomes this responsibility. In a latest variation on the theme, Calipari said that Ulis liked to have “the corner office.” He meant Ulis was big enough to shoulder the responsibility and accept the blame.

Vandy got no closer than seven thereafter.

“He’s our little engine that makes us go,” Poythress said of Ulis. “He’s like a little mini-coach out there.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

No. 23 KENTUCKY 76,

VANDERBILT 57

VANDERBILT

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Kornet

22

2-8

2-2

7

2

2

7

Roberson

32

3-6

4-4

0

0

2

12

Jones

31

5-7

3-6

9

1

2

13

Baldwin IV

32

1-9

5-6

1

2

1

7

LaChance

21

1-5

0-0

1

1

1

3

Justice

7

0-3

0-0

1

1

1

0

Toye

12

1-1

3-4

0

1

0

5

Fisher-Davis

21

1-4

0-0

4

0

1

3

Josephs

2

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Sehic

2

0-2

2-2

3

0

0

2

Cressler

12

1-2

1-1

3

0

0

3

Henderson

6

1-3

0-0

2

0

0

2

Totals

200

16-50

20-25

32

8

10

57

Percentages: FG .320, FT .800. Three-point Goals: 5-15, .333 (Roberson 2-3, Kornet 1-3, Fisher-Davis 1-3, LaChance 1-3, Cressler 0-1, Justice 0-1, Baldwin IV 0-1). Team rebounds: 1. Blocked shots: 3 (Jones 2, Baldwin IV). Turnovers: 12 (Baldwin IV 5, Kornet 2, Justice, LaChance, Roberson, Jones). Steals: 3 (Henderson, Baldwin IV, Jones). Technical fouls: None.

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Poythress

27

8-10

0-0

2

0

3

16

Willis

30

2-8

2-2

9

0

3

7

Ulis

34

9-13

1-1

3

5

3

21

Briscoe

36

3-8

0-0

4

4

3

6

Murray

36

7-13

1-1

7

2

0

18

Lee

17

3-5

0-0

5

0

3

6

Labissiere

4

0-1

0-0

0

0

2

0

Matthews

15

1-2

0-2

2

1

2

2

Floreal

1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Totals

200

33-60

4-6

32

12

19

76

Percentages: FG .550, FT .667. Three-point goals: 6-19, .316 (Murray 3-6, Ulis 2-4, Willis 1-6, Poythress 0-1, Briscoe 0-1, Labissiere 0-1). Team rebounds: 0. Blocked shots: 3 (Lee, Murray, Willis). Turnovers: 7 (Ulis 2, Matthews 2, Briscoe 2). Steals: 6 (Murray 3, Ulis, Lee, Willis). Technical fouls: None.

Vanderbilt

27

30

57

Kentucky

37

39

76

A—22,975. Officials—Joe Lindsay, Ron Groover, Glenn Tuitt.

Next game

Missouri at Kentucky

9 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network)

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