CRAWFORD | Kentucky can't give Ulis enough help, falls to Indiana 73-67 in NCAA
Tyler Ulis had 27 points and nearly brought Kentucky back from a late 10-point deficit with eight straight points, but the Wildcats couldn't give him enough help in a 73-67 loss to Indiana in the NCAA Round of 32.
DES MOINES, Iowa (WDRB) — It’s tough to tell whether this was just an off day, or if the late-season surge by the University of Kentucky basketball program was just the product of friendly environs and weak opponents, or if Indiana was just better than many of the teams the Wildcats had faced this season.
Maybe it was all of the above.
Regardless, this isn't the kind of one-and-done Kentucky is known for. When the Wildcats faced Indiana in the NCAA’s Round of 32 on Saturday afternoon, the front line — as has been known to happen on occasion — didn’t show up.
What hasn’t always happened this season is that the Wildcats encountered a back-court that was at least its equal with the game on the line, and a freshman big man who took the game over late to give Indiana a 73-67 victory.
In the locker room after the game, freshman Jamal Murray was in tears and broke down at least once while talking to reporters. Nobody was more upset than point guard Tyler Ulis. After Indiana took a 10-point lead late, he scored eight straight points to keep the Wildcats in striking distance. He fouled out with 27 points in the closing seconds.
But nobody else could deliver. Instead, the best freshman on the court belonged to the Hoosiers. Big man Thomas Bryant scored 17 of his 19 points in the game’s final 7:35. And no one from UK’s front line could match him.
“Those guys played better than us tonight, played harder, and they deserved to win,” Ulis said. “ . . . They made tough shots at the end. The big kid was making running hook shots.”
Here’s your stat of the game: Frontcourt scoring in the second half: Indiana 25, Kentucky 6. Ballgame. With 19 points, Bryant outscored Skal Labissiere (4), Alex Poythress (6) and Marcus Lee (4) all by himself.
“Let me say this,” Calipari said after the game. “I spent a lot of time recruiting him. He was right down the street from us and the biggest thing I want to tell you is his family should be proud of how much better he’s gotten. Tom and the staff have gotten a kid that I really liked, I thought was really good. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t realize he was that good. . . . He made every play, an then made those free throws (late) after missing one. You think about a young player like he is making that play.”
Even without Bryant, Calipari had the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. And it was a good class, particularly the backcourt stars Murray and Isaiah Briscoe.
Murray finished with 16 points on 7-18 shooting. Briscoe nearly brought the Wildcats back with a couple of dogged defensive plays after they fell behind by 10. But Labissiere never lived up to his promise — which was probably outsized to begin with. And that’s the risk of having to reload every season. If a Dakari Johnson leaves and the returning big men aren’t good enough to step into the void, it’s going to be a problem.
For the Wildcats on Saturday, it was a problem.
The game was tied with eight minutes left. Then Troy Williams, Indiana’s super-athletic guard, got the ball into his hands while point guard Yogi Ferrell rested, and he helped break the game open.
Kentucky had been playing him to drive and shoot. With the game tied, Williams began to drive and pass. He found Bryant for a layup and foul to put the Hoosiers up three. Then he drove and found O.G. Anunoby on the wing for a three to put the Hoosiers up six.
After a couple of stops, Ferrell hit a jumper to put the Hoosiers up eight.
A couple of possessions later, Ferrell drove and found Bryant for a dunk to make it 62-52 with 4;10 left.
Down six, Tyler Ulis scored eight points in 36 seconds. But after that scoring flurry, IU still led by three. And Kentucky couldn’t make enough plays at the end.
“Congratulations to Indiana,” Calipari said. “I thought they played a terrific game and deserved to win. We tried to come back. We made two or three plays that were just two three-point plays back to back, an inside one and then leaving a three-point shooter. Give them credit, they played, they fought. . . . Indiana — every kid on that court gave everything they had. We didn’t play our best, but maybe it’s because of them that we didn’t play our best. We missed a ton of open shots that we usually don’t miss.”
Indiana didn't have its best offensive day. Ferrell finished with 18 points and Troy Williams 13. But outside of Murray and Ulis, no other Wildcat scored in double figures. Briscoe, in front of his locker, said, “Give them credit. But at the same time we still got whatever shots we wanted. They just didn't’ fall today.”
Now comes the time of year when two things happen at Kentucky: Talented players make decisions on the draft, and fans look ahead to the next talented recruiting class coming in. Calipari did both on Saturday.
“I just want to have these guys focus on the big picture,” Calipari said. “For our staff, we got a heck of a group coming in, maybe the best that I’ve ever had. Coming in, that group! The big picture for us is we’re fine. I am sick for my team, though. I’m sick for some individual players who didn’t perform well. I’m sick for Tyler and Jamal who had great years and, you know, Isaiah, and you know, I feel so sad because, you want it. I’ll sit back — could I have done something different? Is there something else I could have done to help them get over the hump? Is there some other way? But you know, the big picture is we’re all right. Now I’m going to have a brand new team again next year — surprise.”
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