No. 1 Kentucky scored just 58 points on Saturday in Louisville, turning the ball over 17 times and giving up 18 offensive rebounds to the Cardinals.
And it didn’t matter.
The Wildcats improved to 12-0 on the season and moved past the biggest hurdle in their pursuit of perfection with a 58-50 win over No. 4 Louisville in a game that UK had a pretty firm grasp on for the majority of the second half. The lead never grew past 12 and Louisville was never more than a pair of threes away from getting right back into the game, but it just never felt like that was going to happen.
You may disagree with me, but the bottom-line is this: Kentucky’s defense was simply astounding on Saturday. They held Louisville to 25.9 percent shooting from the floor and a 3-for-14 performance from beyond the arc. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that the Cardinals had just a single assist on the afternoon, a direct result of the pitiful play they got from Chris Jones and, to a point, Terry Rozier.
But that’s not what won Kentucky this game.
Tyler Ulis is.
The point guard looked anything but a freshman, finishing 14 points and two assists without a turnover against Louisville intense pressure. He also hit a trio of huge jumpers as Kentucky pulled away in the second half. All that happend despite the fact that an elbow early in the first half gave him a cut on the corner of his eye that didn’t stop bleeding the entire game.
But most importantly, Ulis was his able to get the Wildcats into their offense on Saturday. When he was on the floor, they actually got good looks at the basket, which couldn’t be said about a point guard on the floor for either team.
The difference in how well Ulis and Andrew Harrison played was massive. Harrison had six turnovers, was 1-for-6 from the floor and much of the game sulking on the bench, sitting while his team made a run and clapping only if his brother made a shot. The broadcast also showed an exchange, after Harrison took an awful shot early in the shot clock and late in the game, where John Calipari screamed at him, saying “you [expletive] stay in this huddle!”
Ulis is the best point guard on this Kentucky roster. There’s an argument to be made that he’s the most valuable player on the roster. In big moments, he’s going to be the guy that Coach Cal is forced to turn to at the point.
I say “forced” because I don’t think that this performance will move Ulis into the starting lineup. We all saw Harrison’s reaction to seeing his backup outplay him in the biggest game of the year, and it wasn’t pretty. What will happen if he gets benched for the freshman? That’s not a risk that Coach Cal will want to take, not when he only has two points guards on the roster.
And, quite frankly, how often is Kentucky going to run into a situation where they are really going to be in danger of losing a game if they split minutes between the two point guards? Hint: not often.
If the choice is to soothe an ego by starting a sophomore — something I truly doubt Ulis cares about at all — or to risk alienating one of two point guards on his team, the decision is an easy one to make if it’s not going to cost you a game.