By Keith Taylor
When Kentucky coach John Calipari was looking for energy in the first half of Kentucky’s 58-38 win over Providence Sunday, he turned to Tyler Ulis for help and the freshman guard delivered.
Ulis finished with six points, three steals, three offensive rebounds and a blocked shot.
Even though Ulis was productive with three field goals, Kentucky coach John Calipari praised the energy he brought on both ends of the court.
“Very rarely do you see a guy walk in and just change the game,” Calipari said, comparing Ulis’ ability to change the game to other players he has coached including Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis. “Like, change the whole flow of it, and he did it today.”
Calipari said Ulis bothered the Friars’ backcourt and disrupted their flow on the offensive end and helped switch the momentum in his team’s favor.
“(It was) his energy, that’s all it was,” Calipari said. “He came in with unbelievable energy and bothered their point guard, took him out of the stuff they wanted to run. They couldn’t get in a rhythm.”
Providence coach Ed Cooley agreed with Calipari on Ulis’ impact on the contest.
“I thought the biggest key today was (Tyler) Ulis,” Cooley said. “I thought he was very disruptive with his ball pressure. You couldn’t get into an offensive flow. A lot of that has to do with the length. We missed a lot of layups at the rim. Some of that had to do with the length of this team.”
Kentucky junior Alex Poythress said Ulis simply “came in and picked up the ball pressure and got up in them.”
“He made them real uncomfortable and that’s what we needed,” Poythress said. “He sped the game up and that’s what we like to do. You can always tell how frustrated someone is especially when a little guy like Tyler is up in you.”
Andrew Harrison, who battles the 5-foot-9 guard during practice, said Ulis brings “defensive pressure” to the lineup. The sophmore from Texas said Ulis has also played a role in his progression as the team’s point guard.
“He’s a pest on defense,” Harrison said. “We make each other better every day and that’s what we try to do. That’s what practice is for."
Like Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein said Ulis is an “annoyance,” especially on defense.
“He is all over the ball on defense, and he is so quick,” Cauley-Stein said. “He also has excellent court vision, which helps him impact the game on both sides."
Cooley predicts bigger things from Ulis in the future.
“I’ve seen him play in AAU basketball,” Cooley said. “I think he’s a special player. He’s got the ‘it.’ He’s a player who I think you guys are going to see really grow. He does a good job guarding the ball, he’s low to the ground, and he’s got some toughness. He’s a player that has the ultimate ‘it.’ ”
Next up: The Wildcats (7-0) take on Texas at 7 p.m. Friday at Rupp Arena. The Longhorns defeated UConn 55-54 on Sunday.
“Texas is a great team,” Andrew Harrison said. “We’re going to try our best to beat them. We’re going to get to practice this week and try to get better.”
Keith Taylor is award-wining sports editor for the Winchester Sun in Winchester, Ky. Keith was named Top Newspaper Columnist in the 2014 Readers Choice awards in Winchester and has won numerous awards from the Kentucky Press Association, with first-place awards for Best Column in 2000, 2009 and 2012. He has won 19 first-place awards and several second-and third-place awards in his 23-year career. He was runner-up for Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year 2008-10. Keith resides in Richmond with his wife Rhonda and is a member of the Berea Church of God, where he serves on the church board.