CRAWFORD | Calipari down, but Ulis picks Kentucky up in 78-63 wi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Calipari down, but Ulis picks Kentucky up in 78-63 win over Wright State

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — John Calipari sounded down. His University of Kentucky basketball team, ranked No. 2 in the nation, had just beaten Wright State 78-63 in a game that was never seriously in doubt, but he sounded pretty drained afterward.

“You tell me that looked like the No. 2-ranked team in the country,” he told reporters. “There’s got to be 20 teams better than us.”

Free wagering advice: Don’t take that bet. But if you think winning with young players — even the most talented young players in the country — is easy, take a look around. It’s not looking too easy at Mississippi State. It’s not a walk in the park for Duke.

By the time he reached his post-game radio show, Calipari was positively dragging.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Calipari told Tom Leach and the fans who had gathered to listen. “This is a process. It’s not changing today or tomorrow. You have to be demanding. If you accept mediocrity, you’re going to get it every, single time. You know I’m not going to accept it. I coached on every possession today. I am exhausted, if you can’t feel me. Like, I’m more tired this game than I was Duke. I am tired right now. I had to fight every possession. It’s not how I want to coach. I’d rather not be tired. I’d rather be a cheerleader and encourage and make chess moves, you know what I’m saying? Versus begging them for effort.”

Calipari knew, certainly better than his players, that this game would be every bit as challenging as Duke from an emotional readiness standpoint, and frankly in some others. Wright State didn’t try to match Kentucky man-for-man defensively. It played a sagging pack-line scheme. It played some zone. It still couldn’t guard the Wildcats, but it did slow the game — and Kentucky — down for a bit.

Calipari told Wright State coach Billy Donlon after the game, “You gave a pretty good blueprint of how people are going to play us.”

That was the good news for Wright State. The bad? It didn’t really matter.

As long as sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis was on the court, Kentucky was in no danger of losing. He controlled the game.

A small example. In a comfortable win, this probably doesn’t rate as a “turning point” or pivotal moment. But it shows you what a great point guard with a feel for his team can do.

Kentucky’s early seven-point lead had shrunk to three, and just as Wright State might’ve been settling in to think they could hang around with Kentucky, Ulis drove for a layup, then hit a pull-up jumper on the next trip, then went to the rim and got fouled, making two free-throws, and the UK lead was back up to nine, and as close as the Wildcats would face to a crisis was averted. After that, Ulis went back to distributing.

Ulis knows when to look to score, he knows when to distribute, he knows when to get after teammates, and he knows when to pick them up. He finished with 21 points, a career high. 

He’s Derrick Rose, minus about five inches. He was probably the key to a national championship that didn’t happen a year ago, and the biggest reason UK might not miss this year. Listen to what Donlon said about him after the game.

“He never panics, he never gets nervous,” Donlon said. “He makes the right decision every single time. He doesn’t hit a home-run play unless it’s a home run. He never strikes out. When he comes off of a ball-screen, he never gets it wrong. And that’s really hard to guard. When he’s in transition, he never gets it wrong. That’s really hard.”

The only difficult thing Calipari found about Ulis was taking him out. He left with a little more than five minutes to play with the Wildcats up 20. He had to come back in shortly after when Wright State had the ball and a chance to cut it to 10.

“I didn't want to play him as many minutes as he played,” Calipari said. “But I said I want to win a game more than worry about not playing him. If we can't win without him on the floor, then he'll be on the floor every minute. And that means someone's not playing much. When he went out, we let them back in it.”

Donlon’s team has been foul prone all season, and committed 33 fouls, sending Kentucky to the line 37 times, including 31 in the second half.

“I’ve had the privilege of coaching some really good players and working for some outstanding coaches playing professionally in Europe. And I don’t (know) if I’ve ever competed against a team that plays three point guards at once,” Donlon said. “That’s really hard, all at the same time all of the time. Every closeout they put you in the ball’s going to a point guard, and that’s really difficult.”

Still, Calipari thought his team regressed. He didn’t feel like the effort was there. He saw players lapsing into what they wanted to do instead of what they’d been working on. Ulis on several occasions had to get on guys. There were missed dunks and missed free throws.

“We took a big step back,” Calipari said. “Guys didn’t listen. . . . In a league game, we lose.”

After playing one of the best games of his career against Duke, Marcus Lee grabbed seven rebounds but took only one shot and didn’t score. Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray had 15 and 13 points respectfully, but shot too many threes and didn’t drive enough for Calipari’s liking. Alex Poythress had 10 points and 10 rebounds, but Calipari was disappointed that he missed a dunk. Skal Labissiere had 13 points but kept getting pushed out of the post.

The Wildcats shot 53.2 percent, 70 percent from the line, outrebounded Wright State by 10, had a 38-20 edge on points in the paint and 16-5 off turnovers. But you won’t hear many more disappointed coaches after such wins — especially when it was a 35th straight regular-season victory.

“It was like a dogfight today,” Calipari said on his radio show. “For me, that was like going to the dentist. You know how you get worn out when they start sticking the needle in you and your hands are sweating and by the time you leave you’re exhausted? That’s how I feel right now. And, we’re going to be fine. I like my team. But this is not going to be easy. Just because, ‘Well we beat Duke.’ Duke struggled tonight. Just because you beat a team’s name, doesn’t mean you’re a good team. It means we were better than they were on that night. Now we’ve got to say where are we going from here?”

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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