Kentucky Wildcats

Trae Young , Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

Top-25 guard trims list to six

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One of the top points guards in the Class of 2017 has trimmed his list of potential collegiate destinations to six.

Trae Young, a consensus top-25 recruit, listed Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington, Oklahoma State and Kentucky as the schools he is considering as he readies to begin his senior year of high school.

The list of the 6-foot-2 point guard is largely provincial as it includes Oklahoma, whose campus is just minutes away from Young’s Norman North High School, and fellow in-state school Oklahoma. Another pair of Big 12 schools make the list in powerhouse Kansas and the Red Raiders, whose first-year coach, Chris Beard, has spent the bulk of his career working in Texas. Texas Tech is also Young’s father’s alma mater. Washington has been on a role sending its players to the pros and recently received the commitment of top-five 2017 recruit Michael Porter, Jr.

Kentucky, of course, needs no explanation as to its attractiveness to high-level players.

Report: Former Kentucky PG has “significant hip issue”

Champions Classic: Kansas v. Kentucky
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With just over a week until the NBA Draft, former Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis may be dealing with a health issue that could adversely affect his draft stock.

Ullis has “a pretty significant hip issue, which some believe may require surgery down the line,”  Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported Tuesday.

Details here are obviously scarce as there’s no mention of exactly what the “issue” is while “down the line” is a vague phrasing that could mean later this summer or in five years. Whatever the case, a medical red flag at this juncture poses a serious issue for Ulis and the teams considering taking him next Thursday in the draft. Franchises will want all the medical information they can get on Ulis as well as potentially have their own medical staff do an evaluation. Whether Ulis submits his medical history or undergoes testing – not to mention what either of those ultimately reveal – will have a bearing on where he lands.

Even without the health issue, the 5-foot-9 20-year-old is considered a borderline first-round pick after averaging 17.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists last season as a sophomore for the Wildcats. Whatever the concerns about his size or health, Ulis’ track record of winning will no doubt be attractive for teams in the market for a point guard as Kentucky went 65-10 during his two seasons.

First-half struggles doom No. 4 Kentucky against Ohio State

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks to Alex Poythress (22) during a time out in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Associated Press
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One week after they were blown out at UConn on national television, Ohio State wasn’t given much of a chance to compete with No. 4 Kentucky much less win the game. But games are played for a reason, and Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn the Buckeyes outplayed the Wildcats and won by the final score of 74-67.

Once again Kentucky got off to a slow start offensively, and outside of freshman guard Jamal Murray the Wildcats struggled to get much going against Ohio State. Murray scored 33 points on the day, shooting 12-for-23 from the field and 7-for-9 from three in his best performance of the season. Ohio State didn’t have an answer for Murray, but the good news for the Buckeyes was that the other key Wildcats struggled and a 20-7 first half run gave them the cushion they needed to pull off the upset.

Tyler Ulis shot 4-for-12 from the field and Isaiah Briscoe made just one of his eight field goal attempts, and given the inconsistency of Kentucky’s front court John Calipari can’t afford to have his guards struggle to put points on the board. As a team the Wildcats shot 30.5 percent in the first half, and overall they struggled mightily inside of the arc. Kentucky shot 9-for-19 from three with the aforementioned Murray being the biggest reason why, but it’s tough to win games when shooting just over 36 percent from two.

Part of that can be placed upon penetrating guards taking challenged shots. But another issue is the play of the Kentucky big men, and outside of Marcus Lee they’ve struggled to find positive answers.

How can Calipari get what he needs from his big men? It goes without saying that Skal Labissiere has much further to go in his development than anyone imagined before the season began. The freshman finished Saturday’s game with two points and five rebounds, shooting 1-for-7 from the field and being rendered ineffective by the Buckeyes.

Lee has been Kentucky’s most consistent front court player and that was once again the case against Ohio State, as he tallied 12 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes before fouling out. But he needs help. With Labissiere being where he is development-wise and Alex Poythress still struggling to play with the aggressiveness and athleticism his coach is demanding of him, the Wildcats will continue to have issues moving forward if strides aren’t made.

Ohio State was the more aggressive team from the start, and outside of some turnover issues in the second half as Kentucky fought back to within three points Thad Matta’s team played well. Keita Bates-Diop scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Marc Loving added 12 and nine boards. There’s still a lot of room for this team to grow, and Saturday’s win is a highly valuable confidence booster for the young Buckeyes.

That being said, it’s hard not to return the focus to a team viewed as the clear favorites in the SEC and a national title contender. Ulis and Briscoe will have better afternoons. But if Kentucky is to be a major player nationally this season they’ll need more from their front court options, most notably Poythress. None of Kentucky’s big men have to be “20 and ten” players, but they’ve got to play with more aggression and consistency than they have in many of the Wildcats’ games to this point if this group is reach its goals.

No. 5 Kentucky pulls away thanks to improved second-half execution

(AP Photo/James Crisp)
Associated Press
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A Kodi Justice three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half capped a mediocre 20 minutes for No. 5 Kentucky. While they did hold a one-point lead at that point, the Wildcats looked nothing like one of the nation’s top teams. Whatever John Calipari and his staff said to the players in the locker room got through to the players, as the Wildcats produced a far better half of basketball on their way to the 72-58 victory in Lexington.

And moving forward, the key for Kentucky will be putting together quality performances for a full forty minutes as opposed to doing so in fits and spurts.

A 19-5 second half run put the game out of reach for the visiting Sun Devils, who grabbed nearly half of their available offensive rebound opportunities (eight offensive rebounds to nine defensive rebounds for Kentucky) in the first half. Arizona State did grab seven offensive rebounds in the second half, but thanks to Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress (four defensive rebounds each) the Wildcats did a better job of limiting the visitors to one shot.

Those defensive rebounds helped the Wildcats establish a better flow on the offensive end, with Kentucky scoring 20 of their 40 second-half points in the paint and shooting 57.7 percent from the field.

Poythress (ten points, six rebounds) left the game in the first half with a hyperextended right knee (not the one he injured last season) after playing some of his best basketball of the season, and with Skal Labissiere once again ineffective (zero points, zero rebounds) the senior’s absence was felt. Since the start of the season Calipari’s been on Poythress to be more athletic on the court, because he has the potential to change the equation offensively for the Wildcats.

Lee, who’s been effective this season, finished Saturday’s game with 14 points and seven rebounds and has been an important piece for the Wildcats in the front court. But with the strides Labissiere still needs to make being greater than many anticipated before the season began, Poythress’ aggressiveness is an important factor for Kentucky moving forward. They missed him when he wasn’t on the court, with Arizona State hitting the offensive glass, and that changed for the better when he returned.

Another positive in the second half for Kentucky was their perimeter shooting, as they made five of their ten attempts from three after shooting 1-for-11 in the first half. Arizona State used a zone at times, and unlike the first half in which Kentucky settled offensively they were more disciplined in finding quality looks. The Wildcats have capable shooters in Tyler Ulis (12 points, six assists), Jamal Murray (17 points) and Isaiah Briscoe, but they don’t have a consistent knockdown guy.

That makes the quality of shots they get that much more important, and in the second half thanks to their improved execution the Wildcats averaged 1.14 points per possession (0.87 first half).

Given the combination of new pieces and guys who were supplementary options a season ago stepping into primary roles, this is going to be a work in progress. Kentucky took some positive steps in their half-court offense in the second half Saturday, which allowed them to pull away from Arizona State. And as they continue to work on that aspect of their game, the Wildcats need to figure out how to get their prized freshman big man going.

No. 5 Kentucky rebounds with 88-67 win over Eastern Kentucky

Alex Poythress
Associated Press
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky senior Alex Poythress showed what’s possible when his mind, body and will are working together. Coach John Calipari hopes to see that imposing combination more often as the forward keeps making his way back from a devastating knee injury.

Poythress had 21 points and 13 rebounds, Jamal Murray scored 16 and No. 5 Kentucky pulled away from Eastern Kentucky 88-67 Wednesday night to bounce back from last week’s first loss at UCLA.

The Wildcats (8-1) succeeded with improved and dominant inside play against the smaller Colonels. Kentucky scored its first 32 points in the paint and 58 overall, outrebounded EKU 50-25 and made timely baskets before pulling away late.

Poythress’ third double-double this season led the way and featured a baseline drive and two-handed dunk for an 80-65 lead with 4:14 remaining. He finished one point shy of his career best and matched another on the boards.

“I’m just trying to play hard every time I’m out there,” said Poythress, who sustained a season-ending left anterior cruciate ligament last December. “I’m just trying to give 100 percent out there and bring energy.”

Poythress’ effort pleased Calipari, who has waited a long time to see it.

“I want the kid to be the best player in the country. He’s capable of that,” the coach said. “He was a couple of shots from a near-perfect game.”

Marcus Lee added 11 points and eight rebounds, while Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe each added 10 for the Wildcats.

Javontae Hawkins scored 19 points for EKU (7-3), which entered as one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams (44 percent) but made 5 of 18 from behind the arc (28 percent).

For first-year Colonels coach Dan McHale, a former student manager under Kentucky coach Tubby Smith from 1998-2001, the game was a bittersweet homecoming.

His team entered with many offensive strengths including perimeter shooting, but those 3-point shots didn’t fall in a 1-for-8 first half that only improved slightly after the break. The Colonels shot 40 percent from the field overall.

EKU pushed the tempo at times and even got within 71-63 late before Kentucky outscored the Colonels 17-4 down the stretch to seal it.

“To be down eight at the under-eight (minute) timeout, I would have taken it,” McHale said. “We just couldn’t get consecutive stops back together and couldn’t keep them off the offensive glass.”

Kentucky was much better in hitting 35 of 64 overall (55 percent), a huge improvement from its 38-percent effort at UCLA. Then again, those impressive numbers were expected given the Wildcats’ height advantage that the 6-foot-11 Labissiere, 6-9 Lee and 6-8 Poythress provided and frequently exploited underneath.

Especially Poythress, whom McHale said “is a pro when he wants to be. When that motor clicks and when he starts playing at the speed he did tonight, he’s very tough to guard.”

TIP-INS

Eastern Kentucky: Jarelle Reischel, who entered the game ranked third nationally with 65 made free throws on 80 attempts (which ranked fourth), made all five attempts in the first half and finished with 12 points. … Hawkins fell to the floor with a left calf cramp but limped off the floor with eight minutes left.

Kentucky: The Wildcats made 18 assists but committed 17 turnovers. … Briscoe and EKU’s Reischel each received offsetting unsportsmanlike technical fouls in the first half. … Charles Matthews had seven points.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky visits Marshall on Saturday.

Kentucky hosts Arizona State on Saturday.

THIS SEAT IS TAKEN

McHale’s return to Rupp Arena included an homage to late longtime Kentucky equipment manager Bill Keightley, whom he worked under as a student manager. The EKU coach kept the first chair next on the scorer’s table empty to honor his onetime mentor, who worked for the Wildcats for 48 years.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Top-ranked Wildcats visit UCLA

Tyler Ulis, Parker Ernsthausen
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 1 Kentucky at UCLA, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

The Wildcats and Bruins meet at Pauley Pavilion, and hopefully this game is more competitive than last season’s matchup in Chicago. Kentucky dominated from start to finish, posting a halftime score more fitting of a college football “buy” game than a college basketball game between two of the sport’s storied programs (41-7). Many of the faces have changed for John Calipari’s team but the results remain the same to this point, although it remains to be seen how healthy sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis is (hyperextended right elbow). That, along with UCLA’s front court tandem of Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh, will be keys to keep an eye on tonight.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Belmont at Valparaiso, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top mid-major programs will meet in Valparaiso, with the Crusaders hosting the Bruins in a matchup of the preseason favorites in the OVC (Belmont) and Horizon League (Valparaiso). Bryce Drew’s Crusaders have been stingy defensively with senior Vashil Fernandez serving as the anchor, and they’ve got a number of scoring options including forward Alec Peters. That defense will need to be at its best to slow down Rick Bryd’s team, which features guard Craig Bradshaw and forward Evan Bradds.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. No. 6 Oklahoma is the only other ranked team in action tonight, with the Sooners hosting Central Arkansas (8:00 p.m., ESPNU). The perimeter triumvirate of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have played well thus far, as has senior forward Ryan Spangler. If anything, this game should give front court players such as Akolda Manyang, Jamuni McNeace and Khadeem Lattin added reps with the struggling Bears arriving in Norman with a 1-5 record.

2. USF, which has won two of its last three games after starting the season 0-4 (the lone loss to Kentucky, so no shame there), hits the road to take on Delaware. This is an important game for Orlando Antigua’s team, as their next two contests are against South Carolina and NC State. If the Bulls are to have any shot at leaving Newark with a win, they’ll need to slow down a balanced offensive attack that boasts five players averaging between 8.3 and 13.5 points per game led by forward Cazmon Haynes (13.5, 7.0 rpg).

3. UT-Arlington, which already has wins over Ohio State and Memphis to its credit and lost at Texas in overtime earlier this week, hosts North Texas in a game they should take care of. Scott Cross’s Mavericks haven’t been great when it comes to shooting the ball but they’re one of the nation’s best on the offensive glass, as they’ve rebounded 42.5 percent of their missed shots (fifth nationally). Leading the way has been forward Kevin Hervey, who’s averaging 17.3 points and ten rebounds per game.

4. Colorado State, which has won five of its first six games, hosts a tested Long Beach State team in what should be an entertaining contest. And if you like transfers this game’s loaded with them, with Nick Faust (Maryland) leading the way for the 49ers and junior college transfer Emmanuel Omogbo being one of five averaging double figures for Colorado State while also leading the team in rebounding (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg). CSU’s Gian Clavell has been one of the Mountain West’s most improved players thus far, averaging 21.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

5. USC will look to rebound from their 1-2 weekend in Orlando by winning at UCSB. The Gauchos are led by senior guard Michael Bryson, who accounted for 23 points, five rebounds and six assists in a two-point loss at Arizona State over the weekend. He’s joined in the backcourt by John Green, who will look to bounce back from a 2-for-12 outing against the Sun Devils. USC doesn’t lack for talent on the perimeter either with Jordan McLaughlin leading the way, and forwards Nikola Jovanovic and Bennie Boatwright can score as well.

6. Louisiana and ULM meet in the Sun Belt opener for both, with the Ragin’ Cajuns pegged as the preseason favorites to win the league. Shawn Long will lead the way for the Ragin’ Cajuns, with ULM countering with its own 6-foot-10 senior big man in Majok Deng. These are two of the top offensive teams in the Sun Belt, with the Ragin’ Cajuns shooting a league-best 51.3 percent from the field and the Warhawks third in the conference at 45.5 percent. But ULM has been the better defensive team thus far, which should make for an interesting matchup.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • UMass-Lowell at LIU Brooklyn, 7:00 p.m.
  • Central Michigan at Grand Canyon, 9:00 p.m.
  • IPFW at Cal Poly, 10:00 p.m.