Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Ulis Keeps No. 1 Kentucky Unbeaten With Win Over No. 4 Louisville
By CHRIS RUSSELL
On the biggest stage of college basketball, the smallest player was the difference.
Despite a cut above his right eye that ultimately required three stitches, Kentucky freshman guard Tyler Ulis was the difference in Saturday’s 58-50 victory over No. 4 Louisville at KFC Yum! Center.
Ulis handled Louisville’s defensive pressure and connected on key jump shots in the second half en route to 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He also had 2 assists and 0 turnovers as Kentucky (13-0) remained unbeaten and kept its hopes of a perfect season alive.
“It was a great feeling to get that win there, especially because it was a rivalry game,” Ulis said. “That was my first big away game and it was a great feeling.”
“I’ve loved him from the moment I started watching him,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “He’s a great point guard.”
“Ulis was the best player on the floor,” one NBA scout told SNY.tv.
“Well, everybody’s seen it,” fellow freshman Devin Booker said. “He’s incredible. He’s showing people – you guys – things you haven’t seen out of him before, but I’ve seen it because we’ve played on camps and teams all the time, so it’s nothing new to me. He’s a real special player.”
An inadvertent elbow by Louisville’s Chris Jones in the first half left Ulis with two thin bandages that ultimately led to three stitches. He hit two big 3-pointers to give the Wildcats (13-0) a cushion in this showdown between unbeaten Bluegrass State rivals.
“No, I didn’t know I was bleeding until one of the players yelled to the refs, ‘He’s bleeding!'” Ulis said “And then they stopped the game.”
Kentucky’s freshman stepped up for the challenge as power forward Karl Anthony-Towns scored 10 points to go with 9 rebounds and Trey Lyles finished with 7 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. The freshmen backcourt duo of Booker and Ulis combined for 54 minutes played while committing 0 turnovers. The four freshmen scored a combined 39 of 58 points.
Kentucky’s staggering defense held Louisville to 26 percent shooting from the field and 3-for-14 from behind the arc to go with just 1 assist. Saturday marked the fourth win that the Cats have had against a preseason Top 10 team.
“I know one thing, they’re one of the great defensive teams I’ve seen in my 40 years,” said Pitino.
Louisville was led by guard Terry Rozier’s 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting. Preseason All-American Montrezl Harrell, who returned from a one-game suspension, struggled to find his niche in the paint, often being double-teamed which made it difficult for the 6-foot-8 power forward to operate. Harrell finished with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
With the victory, Calipari now leads the head-to-head battle over Pitino 7-1, intensifying the bluegrass rivalry and making it as the best in college basketball.
“Kentucky vs. Louisville rivalry is a better rivalry than Duke vs. North Carolina,” Jay Bilas said on-air Saturday.
Kentucky now enters conference play Jan. 6 versus Ole Miss. On paper, Kentucky’s toughest matchups could come from Arkansas (9-2) in Rupp, a team that defeated Kentucky twice last season, at LSU (9-2) and a home and home series with Florida (7-4). They don’t have to play at Arkansas, which is a bonus.
With the win, Kentucky (13-0) remains on quest to become the first team to finish the season undefeated since Indiana in 1976.
“I’ve got a good team,” said head coach John Calipari. “I really have a good team. I have nine guys. I’m going to continue the platoon. I’m not changing.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.