Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball: Three things from UK’s Vanderbilt preview

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari let him self have a little smile late during UK’s 80-66 win at Arkansas on Thursday night.
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari let him self have a little smile late during UK’s 80-66 win at Arkansas on Thursday night. Lexington Herald-Leader

Back from Thursday night’s impressive 80-66 victory at Arkansas, UK basketball coach John Calipari held a media opportunity Friday morning to talk about the win over the Razorbacks and preview Saturday’s game against visiting Vanderbilt. A few media members made their way trough the snow to the Joe Craft Center.

Here are three things from the question-and-answer session.

1. Taking it from the practice court to the game court

Calipari again talked about how well Derek Willis and Skal Labissiere had both been practicing of late and how UK’s two “bigs” showed that at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Willis, who was in the starting lineup, scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. It was the second straight game in which the junior scored a dozen points. Labissiere scored 11 points, his first double-digit scoring game since UK’s win over Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 9.

Calipari reiterated what he said after the game Thursday night, that maybe Labissiere is more of a face-up shooter than a post-up presence. “He’s a jump-shooting big man,” Calipari said. Asked if he wanted Labissiere to be that post-up presence because that’s what the team needed, Calipari said that was part of it and part of it was that he believes Labissiere needs that to be a No. 1 pick like a Karl-Anthony Towns.

It’s obvious over the last couple of games that Labissiere’s confidence has grown. Even against Auburn, he wasn’t quite as tentative. Thursday night, the freshman played all-out. Example, he blocked three shots, his highest total since that Eastern game.

“He’s building his own confidence,” Calipari said. “If it’s me (saying), ‘Yeah, you’re ok.’ (He’ll say) ‘No I’m not.’ It doesn’t matter what I say. It’s what he’s saying to himself. I keep telling him you’ve got no pressure on you now. Anything you do now is ‘Oh my gosh” so just go play.”

2. Taking some of the load off Tyler Ulis

The sophomore point guard scored a career-high 24 points on Thursday night. He also dished five assists and hit 14 of 15 free throws. That was the best free throw performance by a Cat since Jodie Meeks went 14-of-14 at the line during his 54-point performance at Tennessee in 2009.

Ulis also played 38 minutes, the 11th game this season in which he’s played 38 minutes. Ulis has played all 40 minutes in four games. He’s currently 27th in the nation in minutes played per game at 36.2.

I told guys, ‘If you are just totally relying on Tyler, I’m taking you out of the game.’ You have to be responsible for you. If you have a shot and you quickly throw it back to Tyler because you don’t want to shoot it, you’re out, you’re not playing. And I did it twice last night.

John Calipari

“I told guys, ‘If you are just totally relying on Tyler, I’m taking you out of the game,’” Calipari said. “You have to be responsible for you. If you have a shot and you quickly throw it back to Tyler because you don’t want to shoot it, you’re out, you’re not playing. And I did it twice last night.”

Calipari said Ulis already has too much on his shoulders for teammates to put too much on the point guard’s shoulder as well.

3. Vanderbilt one of the best teams in the league

To beat the snow, the Commodores arrived in town on Thursday. So Saturday’s 4 p.m. game on ESPN is expected to take place despite the local blizzard. Considering the way Vandy is playing of late, it should be a terrific matchup.

Calipari said that he puts Vanderbilt with Texas A&M as far as being the best teams in the league. The Commodores struggled when 7-foot sophomore Luke Kornet, son of former Lexington Catholic star Frank Kornet, was out of the lineup with a knee injury.

SEC basketball game-by-game results, schedule and leaders

“They run great stuff. They really can shoot the three. They’re the biggest team we’ve played. They’re huge,” Calipari said. “Really hard game for us.”

After an 0-3 start, Vanderbilt has won three straight with wins over Auburn, Alabama and at Tennessee. Kornet had 14 rebounds at Tennessee. Wade Baldwin scored 25 points against the Vols. And Vanderbilt is 10th in the nation in the three-point field goal percentage.

Arkansas was third in the nation in three-point percentage at 44.7 and made just two of 12 threes on Thursday. That came after Kentucky gave up 12 threes at Auburn. So how important is three-point defense for Kentucky on Saturday against Vanderbilt.

“It’s important but they also post. They have a good post game,’ Calipari said. “This is a little different. How we go at this is a little different.”

Kentucky basketball’s next five games

  • Jan. 23 Vanderbilt (4 p.m./ESPN)
  • Jan. 27 Missouri (9 p.m./SEC)
  • Jan. 30 @Kansas (7 p.m./ESPN)
  • Feb. 2 @Tennessee (7 p.m./ESPN)
  • Feb. 9 Florida (4 p.m./CBS)

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

W

L

W

L

Texas A&M

6

0

16

2

South Carolina

4

1

17

1

Kentucky

4

2

14

4

Florida

4

2

12

6

LSU

4

2

11

7

Georgia

3

3

10

6

Vanderbilt

3

3

11

7

Auburn

3

3

9

8

Arkansas

3

3

9

9

Tennessee

2

4

9

9

Ole Miss

2

4

12

6

Alabama

1

4

9

8

Missouri

1

4

8

10

Miss State

0

5

7

10

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