Recap: Sensational backcourt powers Kentucky Wildcats to 74-63 win over Duke in Champions Classic

CHICAGO -- Kentucky's three-man backcourt made a strong statement Tuesday in the Champions Classic as Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe combined for 46 points, 12 assists, eight steals and only four turnovers in the No. 2 Wildcats' 74-63 win over No. 5 Duke.

“We have good, smart guards,” UK coach John Calipari said. “And you see (Ulis’) leadership with everybody on the court. You just feel it. When he’s off the court, we’re not the same. He’s kind of like a baseball player that watches the ball and can see the seams. The game happens slower for him.”

"Ulis played a great game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Six assists, no turnovers, 18 points. There aren't many guys out there like him. He really takes control of the game. And Murray's a man. He's played big-time competition. Briscoe played well. I thought they were just stronger than we were."

Kentucky (3-0) also got a double-double from junior center Marcus Lee, who scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds before fouling out with just under six minutes remaining. Senior forward Alex Poythress added nine points and seven rebounds. The two veteran big men helped compensate for an off-night for UK freshman center/forward Skal Labissiere, who fouled out with only seven points and four rebounds.

The Wildcats trailed only once the entire game, 20-18 midway through the first half. They built a 37-31 lead at halftime and extended it to as much as 16 with 4:09 left in the game.

Duke (2-1) was never able to get its leading scorer, Grayson Allen, started against the long, quick UK defense. He came into the matchup averaging 27 points per game, but was held to no points on 0-for-9 shooting in the first half. He finished with six points on a 2-for-11 shooting night. The Cats held the Blue Devils to 40.7 percent (22 of 54) as a team.

Amile Jefferson led Duke with 16 points and 15 rebounds.

In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we break down some quick-hitters from the game...


An argument can be made that it was the day John Calipari turned his recruiting focus to Tyler Ulis, who was (at least) the third point guard that the UK boss pursued in the Class of 2014 behind bigger names like Emmanuel Mudiay and Tyus Jones. Two years later, Ulis may be the best floor general in the college game. The 5-foot-9 Ulis played much taller in a return to his old Chicago home, dominating the game's tempo and attitude from opening tip to final buzzer. When Ulis is paired with two other "combo" playmakers like Murray and Briscoe, it makes UK extremely difficult to defend, especially because they do not settle for jumpers. They're seemingly always on the attack off the bounce. Consider this: the trio scored 46 points and attempted just eight 3-pointers among their 38 attempts. How often does that happen in this age of college basketball?


4 - Steals by Murray, a new career high.

5 - Seconds that Duke led during the game.

17 - Points off turnovers for UK.

18-4 - UK's advantage in fast-break points.

109 - Minutes played by UK's starting backcourt, committing just four turnovers.

1980 - The last time UK had a player (Kyle Macy vs. LSU) record as many as 18 points and six assists in an AP Top 5 matchup.


"God was good to him. The gene pool was good. They didn't give him height, but they probably gave him a heart that's five times the size of normal people." -- Duke's Coach K on the Cats' Tyler Ulis.


Kentucky returns to action Friday at Rupp Arena against Wright State. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. ET.

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