Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Tyler Ulis led Kentucky to a win with a masterful performance.
It has become prevailingly commonplace this season for Kentucky’s diminutive floor general to lead the Wildcats to a win in a tough game, and Tuesday night was no different. Ulis scored 19 points, dished out 11 assists and grabbed four rebounds in an 88-79 triumph at Florida, generally dictating everything that happened on the floor.
His importance to Kentucky cannot be overstated, and it was on display late in the first half. After two personal fouls in the first 15 minutes, coach John Calipari took him out. The Wildcats’ offense went into the toilet and the Gators immediately went on a 10-0 run. He’s among the most important players to his team in the country, and it’s exceedingly obvious to anyone who watches the Wildcats on a regular basis. He will deservingly be a first-team All-American, and that’s all that needs to be said.
Instead of blathering on further about Ulis, let’s talk about the “tweak” — as Calipari put it — in Kentucky’s lineup. Arguably, that’s a bigger story than Ulis’ continued dominance.
Much-maligned freshman Skal Labissiere entered the starting lineup in this one, and he responded resoundingly with 11 points and eight rebounds. It was the most effective he has looked all season against stiff competition, confidently hoisting jumpers and making defensive rotations.
And that’s the key adjective with Labissiere: confidence. It looked like the show of faith from Calipari was what he needed to know that he still was a valued member of Kentucky’s team. Basically, it looked like he was just playing instead of thinking out there, and it resulted in his best performance of the season, including this powerful dunk in the second half.
If Labissiere can continue to play like this, Kentucky’s ceiling gets ratcheted up a bit.
On the other side, this was a pretty crippling defeat for Florida. The Gators needed this one to feel confident about their NCAA Tournament chances heading into the SEC Tournament. Now, they’re just 17-13 with a 2-10 mark against the RPI top 50. That’s probably not going to get it done, and Mike White’s group is going to need to perform well in the aforementioned SEC Tournament to have a shot to go dancing. They’ll probably need two quality wins in that event to get there, meaning a title-game trip might be the goal.
Overall, a really good night for Kentucky, and a really bad one for Florida.