UK Men's Basketball

Tyler Ulis casts biggest shadow over this Kentucky season

Derek Willis likens Tyler Ulis to a boss at the workplace. A human resources director who manages personnel issues while the CEO, in this case Kentucky Coach John Calipari, concentrates on the big picture.

“It’s like our job,” Willis said Monday. “And when you come to your job, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. If people aren’t performing, your boss is going to get mad at you.

“It’s not personal. You’ve got to get the job done. If you’re not doing it, the next guy we’re counting on.”

Despite his size, Ulis casts a big shadow on this Kentucky team.

Of the swag Ulis possesses, Willis said, “Just be fearful of that person, pretty much.”

Ulis most famously showed this he’s-the-boss side when Kentucky played at UCLA. During a timeout, the television cameras caught him giving freshman Skal Labissiere a shove, the body language saying, C’mon, get with it.

Assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for Calipari at Monday’s news conference, said Ulis can wield influence on and off the court. In part, it’s part of the job description for point guards. Derrick Rose, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Andrew Harrison had this take-charge persona.

“Your great point guards are extensions of the head coach on the floor, for sure . . . ,” Robic said. “He thinks like a head coach. After two years, you’ve got a pretty solid bond of what you’re thinking when you’re thinking of it.”

The bond can be a two-way street. The UK coaches coach Ulis. Ulis, in a sense, coaches the coaches.

“He makes suggestions,” Robic said. “He’s actually on the floor, so he can get a better feel than us on the side watching. And we trust him. That’s the biggest thing.

“Now, there’s going to be times he’ll get over-ruled. But we have that trust factor that he has earned.”

In recent weeks, Calipari has given Ulis credit for suggesting that the experiment of making Labissiere a low-post scorer be abandoned. Labissiere would be better used facing the basket on offense.

Perhaps reluctantly, UK moved Labissiere to the high post and, as Ulis suggested, gained a more productive player.

“Very good extension of Coach Cal on the court,” Labissiere called Ulis. “Everything Coach Cal tells us to do, he reminds us to do it while we’re out there on the court.”

Ulis apparently also promoted the little-used Isaac Humphries as a possible inside presence. That worked, too, against Florida on Saturday.

Robic wryly noted that Ulis likes the idea of using the effective screens Humphries can set.

“He’s such a smart player,” Robic said of Ulis. “He sees a play ahead. He’s a great anticipator.”

That quality makes Kentucky give Ulis some time defensively off the ball in order to anticipate and steal passes, Robic said.

Georgia’s experienced guards figure to test Ulis and UK’s other two star guards, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe, Tuesday night.

Georgia ranks sixth nationally in field-goal defense (opponents shooting 37.5 percent) and 22nd in three-point defense (30.5 percent).

More than once, Georgia Coach Mark Fox has cautioned reporters not to take those numbers too seriously.

“I would say the numbers are better than our coach feels about our defense,” he said on a teleconference Monday.

The Bulldogs’ three-guard approach includes two seniors, Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, plus junior J.J. Frazier.

“Those guys don’t make a lot of mistakes defensively,” Fox said, “and have been very consistent.”

But, Fox said breakdowns by interior defenders have caused concern.

Auburn made only 25.9 percent of its shots in a loss to Georgia last weekend. That made Auburn the 19th opponent in Georgia’s last 21 games to shoot less accurately than its season’s percentage. Florida and Texas A&M are the exceptions.

Mann and Gaines have each scored 1,000 points in their college careers. Frazier ranks fourth among SEC players by making 41.6 percent of his three-point shots.

Kentucky’s Three Tenors figure to test Georgia’s perimeter defense and offense.

“Those guys are terrific,” Fox said of Ulis, Murray and Briscoe.

The Georgia coach touted Ulis’ ability to elevate his teammates’ performances. “A wonderful decision-maker,” Fox called him.

Murray is a “terrific shooter” who can also score off the dribble, Fox said. Briscoe can out-think or out-muscle defenders.

“They have a real good chemistry between the three of them,” Fox said. “Along with that chemistry, they have a good skill set.

“It’s a huge challenge.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton


Georgia at No. 22 Kentucky

When: 9 p.m.


Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Georgia 13-8 (6-4 SEC), Kentucky 17-6 (7-3)

Series: Kentucky leads 119-26

Last meeting: Kentucky won 72-64 on March 3, 2015, at Athens, Ga.

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