No. 2-ranked Kentucky passed its first significant test Tuesday night at the United Center in Chicago, ousting the 5th-ranked Duke Blue Devils 74-63 on the hinges of electrifying guard play by sophomore Tyler Ulis and freshmen Jamal Murray and Isiah Briscoe.
The three-headed Wildcat backcourt combined for 48 of the team’s 74 points, to go along with eight steals, 12 assists and just four turnovers. They ran the floor. They penetrated. They passed as well as any John Calipari-team has passed at Kentucky and, ultimately, they won the game.
To put it in perspective, the highly-touted, Kentucky freshman big-man Skal Labissiere was in foul trouble for the entire game. This is a kid who has been projected as high as the number one NBA Draft pick in 2016, and he contributed only seven points and four rebounds in just 13 minutes of action, fouling out with just under five minutes left in the game.
Junior Marcus Lee was a significant inside presence in the first half for the Wildcats and Kentucky certainly would have suffered without his 10 points and 10 rebounds (his first career double-double). But Lee only played 22 minutes and fouled out with 5:55 left in the game.
Kentucky just needed bodies to sit down low, rebound, and occasionally catch a lob in transition for a dunk. The guards handled the rest.
Duke coach Mike Kryzewski, 5-time National Champion and the winningest coach in college basketball, had some flattering words to say of Kentucky’s Ulis:
“God was good to him,” Krzyzewski said. “They didn’t give him height, but they gave him probably a heart that’s five times bigger than most people. He has great balance. And he’s got poise. It doesn’t look like he gets tired. He’s in complete control of his team. Competing against him, I admired his presence throughout the game and his face throughout the game. It was the face of a winner, and a really good leader.”
Kentucky heads home to take on the Wright State Raiders this Friday, Nov. 20 at Rupp Arena. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m. EST on the SEC Network.