UK Men's Basketball

Vandy-UK notes: Volatility in UK front court gives fans plenty to ponder

Tyler Ulis doesn't want to be 6-foot-5

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis talks to media after 76-57 win over Vandy.
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Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis talks to media after 76-57 win over Vandy.

Kentucky’s front-court players continued to look like a volatile stock margin with the price of some stocks skyrocketing (Derek Willis), others encouraging investment (Alex Poythress) and others leaving investors unsure (Skal Labissiere).

Willis, who had 41 rebounds in his first two UK seasons, grabbed nine in Saturday’s victory over Vanderbilt. That gave him 28 rebounds in the last three games.

“The kid’s got confidence and he’s built it himself,” UK Coach John Calipari said.

The rebounding translates into playing time. Willis played 30 minutes for a third straight game, and the first three times of his career.

“I told him, ‘Derek, you can miss shots when you rebound and block shots and defend,” Calipari said. “You don’t have to make every shot.”

For a second straight game, Poythress started aggressively. It appeared UK saw the Poythress-Luke Kornet matchup as holding rich possibilities. Four times in the first 11 minutes, Poythress scored against Kornet.

Back-to-back baskets at the start showed Poythress came to play. He scored on a post-up against Kornet and Damian Jones as a help defender. Then Poythress hit a jumper from the elbow.

Poythress scored 16 points.

Calipari said such production comes when Poythress “plays like an athlete and not as a bully.”

Labissiere, whose 11 points at Arkansas were the most he’s scored since Nov. 27, equaled a season low of four minutes. Calipari said high-ball screen action that worked against Arkansas’ spread-out defense would be less effective against a Vandy defense sagging into the lane.

“I just didn’t think this was the right game for him because of how these guys play,” Calipari said. “They’re older inside. They’re bigger. They shoot threes. . . . But he’s fine.

“That was my choice. It was nothing he did or didn’t do.”

‘More locked in’

Guard Jamal Murray said UK players are “more locked in and prepared” for opponents now.

When asked what caused this change, Murray said, “I think it’s our losses. Just too many losses, and losses we shouldn’t have lost.”

Helping Kentucky’s surge is fewer turnovers. The Cats committed a season-low six turnovers at Arkansas on Thursday, then had only seven against Vandy.

Murray suggested the Cats are more prudent in their willingness to make risky plays.

“I think we’re picking our spots as a team ... ,” he said. “No one’s trying to force anything.”

UK fans and snow

What snow storm? The announced attendance of 22,975 again showed that Mother Nature is no match for UK fans.

Calipari said he expected a crowd of 18,000 because of Friday’s snowfall. Deputy Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy expected 12,000, Calipari said.

“And these knuckleheads figured out how to get here,” Calipari said. “I have no idea whether they came two days ago because they heard the storm (was coming). Or whether they were stuck on the highway and walked here.”

Murray and snow

You might think because he is from Ontario, Murray likes snow.

“No, I don’t like snow,” he said. “Just because I’m from Canada does not mean I like snow or I’m used to it. I’m not used to it. ... I don’t like it any more than anybody else.”

Profile not flattering

The perception going into the game was that Vandy’s postseason profile needed a victory over a ranked opponent, something the Commodores hadn’t done since 2012.

That didn’t happen. Vandy suffered its most lopsided defeat of the season, easily eclipsing a 68-55 defeat at Purdue. That had been the Commodores’ only loss this season by double digits.

UK inflicted Vandy’s most lopsided loss since a 76-38 setback against Tennessee on March 1, 2014.

“We just got outplayed in pretty much every facet today,” Coach Kevin Stallings said. “Their defense was better than our defense. Their offense was better than our offense. Their coaching was better than our coaching.

“That pretty much sums it up for you.”

While two games within 48 hours was seen as a potential problem for UK, Calipari suggested Vandy suffered because of being on the road for almost five straight days: Leaving Tuesday to play Wednesday at Tennessee, then traveling to Lexington on Thursday in order to beat the snow storm forecast for Friday.

“I just was hoping like heck they’d be stale,” Calipari said. “I’ve been there.”

Vandy won at Tennessee on Wednesday. A Commodore team has not won at both Tennessee and Kentucky since 1974.

Condolences

Longtime UK fan Judy Owens passed away Saturday. She was 75.

Owens was a regular in a courtside seat across from the visitors’ bench. She and seatmate Selma Conrad were longtime friends who became widows the same year.

Owens will be missed by those who sat near her.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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