CRAWFORD | FAB-Ulis: UK guard was the difference in OT win over Texas A&M for SEC title
The University of Kentucky won its 29th SEC Tournament in a game to remember, an 82-77 overtime win over Texas A&M in which the Wildcats got a career-high 30 points from sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — It was your typical conference championship game. Third game in three days. Labored at times. Jump shots had to be earned because of tired legs. Rhythm left the building.
There were, by my count, nine players on the court with six minutes to play in the SEC Tournament Championship game who were pretty well spent. And that was before it went overtime.
And then there was Tyler Ulis. Fatigue does not stop at his locker. He made long threes. He drove time and again, bounced off defenders on the break and still scored, sank free throws, got back on defense.
The University of Kentucky beat Texas A&M 82-77 in the second overtime game of the season between these teams because it had Ulis and the Aggies did not.
Ulis did need a little help from his friends in the extra period — a right corner three by Derek Willis with 1:01 left, and a long shot-clock beater from the left wing from Jamal Murray with 15 seconds left — to make the difference in OT.
But it was Ulis, playing all 45 minutes, scoring a career-high 30 points, who was the difference. He got the assist on Willis’ late three. He got the defensive rebound to give UK the ball for Murray’s late heroics.
He handled the ball, ran the offense, even called the offense for a great deal of the game.
“He had five assists, one turnover, three steals also,” UK coach John Calipari said. “Every big play, either he made or he passed it and we got the play. End of the game, every time down, we played through him.”
The game was meaningful beyond just being Kentucky’s 29th SEC Tournament title and John Calipari’s 50th win in an conference tournament game (against 12 losses).
UK had been impressive in its prior four games, but all came against teams that are not likely to make the NCAA Tournament field. In fact, the last time UK had beaten a probable NCAA Tournament team — if Joe Lunardi’s most recent projection of the SEC as a two-bid league is correct — was Duke, in the third game of the season. (UK also beat Louisville, which would have been a tournament team without its self-imposed postseason ban.)
It needed a quality win. This one was quality. Texas A&M is good. And there aren’t a whole lot of tougher efforts than to stand in and fight to overtime in what basically was a road game in front of 19,613 full-throated, blue-clad Kentucky fans.
Ulis was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Calipari calls him one of the most valuable players in all of college basketball.
“Tyler Ulis, you’re watching all this, I might be biased, I don’t think I am, he should be one of those guys for player of the year, if not the guy,” Calipari said. “Because he’s 5-9, people don’t think about it. But when you look at his numbers and what he’s doing, that’s the player of the year. His heart and his energy are ridiculous, and we feed off it, to be honest with you.”
Calipari said he tried to take both Ulis and Murray out of the game to rest intermittently.
“I looked at them a couple of times, ‘You need a break?’ They said, ‘Nope, not me,’” Calipari said.
Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso marveled at Ulis’ conditioning.
“He’s played three straight games 40 minutes and he’s probably ready to play another one right now,” Caruso said. He leads their team, makes shots, he’s the player of the year in our league. When they need something, he gives it to him.”
They needed a big three to break a tie in overtime late, though, and Calipari turned to Willis. They tried to run a play to get him an open corner three on the previous possession. This time down Calipari told Ulis to make sure it happened. Ulis did, Willis hit the three with 1:01 left, and it was, as Calipari called it, “the dagger.”
“He needed to defend a little bit better, but he hit the shots and free-throws we needed,” Calipari said.
As for Ulis, he didn’t have a ton to say about winning MVP, or the tournament.
“Derek hit a big shot, Jamal hit a big shot,” Ulis said. “It was a great game for us.”
Murray saw his streak of consecutive games with at least 20 points ended at 12, but still was all smiles. His 66 points in the tournament were the most for a UK player in 20 years.
Murray finished with 17 points. Willis, Alex Poythress and Isaiah Briscoe — who is playing his best basketball of the season — all finished with 10.
“It’s a good feeling,” Murray said. “We came together as a team. It’s been a journey, but we trusted coach and trusted our point guard, and they led us here.”
Now, we’ll see how much farther they can take a Wildcats team that is finally healthy, and playing its best at the right time.
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