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UK Basketball Notebook: Wildcats Prep for Vols

In this edition of AW's UK Basketball Notebook, the Cats begin preparation for the home stretch of the regular season beginning Tuesday night at Tennessee.

One of the coaching staff's goals for the final 10 games of the regular season is to find a way to limit the minutes of sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis.

Ulis played all 45 minutes of Saturday's overtime loss at Kansas. He played well, scoring a career-high 26 points and dishing out eight assists, but may have been hindered by fatigue down the stretch as the Jayhawks pulled away for a 90-86 win.

"I tried to take him out a couple times and he's begging me to leave him in," UK head coach John Calipari said during Monday's SEC coaches teleconference. "So we've got to get a little more of a rotation going. And then, who is in on that rotation? So we're working on that right now, trying to get a pre-set, in-stone plan, especially in the first half of how we're subbing players. 'No, coach.' 'No, here's what we're doing.' And it doesn't matter the score. This is how we're doing this. Second half you can change a little bit."

Ulis (16.1 ppg, 6.2 apg) was on Monday named one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award honoring the nation's top point guard.

In UK's five losses this season, Ulis has played 38, 39, 40, 40 and 45 minutes. He is averaging 36.3 minutes a game this season, but keeping his legs strong down the stretch this season could be a concern due to the shin splints he's struggled with in the past.

Asked about other options, UK assistant coach Kenny Payne said: “Every option. Moving Dom (Hawkins) in more, playing Derek Willis (at the 3). Nothing concrete, but we’re just exploring everything.”

Kentucky has also used freshman Isaiah Briscoe at the point at times this season, but typically with Ulis sliding over to the wing. Payne thinks all of the Cats' guards could benefit from more rest.

“No question. We’ve got to find a way to get Isaiah, Jamal (Murray) and Tyler around 30 minutes, 32, 33 minutes a game," he said. "Some kind of way.

“The key to our success right now is ball pressure, so we’re trying to play 40 minutes really pressuring the ball, really dictating the plays, really getting out in transition. So for those three guards (Ulis, Murray, Briscoe), it’s taxing. It’s very taxing.”

Trip To Rocky Top

After stepping out of league play to participate in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, Kentucky (16-5, 6-2 SEC) returns Tuesday night against its oldest rival. Tennessee (10-11, 3-5 SEC) has struggled under first-year coach Rick Barnes, but the Volunteers have historically played the Cats well in Knoxville.

Kentucky is 151-67 all-time against UT, but only 54-48 in Knoxville. Calipari has had two of his UK teams lose at Thompson-Boling Arena, including the 2009-10 squad led by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

“I think Tennessee is a very scrappy team," Payne said. "They aren’t that big, but they send four and five guys to the offensive glass at times, and this will be a game where we need those guys to step up and play well. Everyone, one through five, needs to step up, rebound well, and fight. At the end of the day, these games aren't as much about strategy as they are the will to win.”

The Vols are led by senior guard Kevin Punter Jr., who is averaging 23.0 points per game. That's good for ninth nationally.

“He’s aggressive offensively," Payne said. "He gets shots. His team needs him to shoot the ball and he does. He does a great job of going to the free-throw line. He’s attacking at all times. He’s a handful.”

Cats Don't Move Up

Despite a great showing Saturday in an overtime loss at No. 4 Kansas and a 34-point win earlier in the week over Missouri, Kentucky remained at No. 20 in the AP Top 25 poll released Monday afternoon.

Oklahoma, North Carolina, Villanova, Maryland and Iowa claimed the top five spots in the poll. SEC-leading Texas A&M came in at No. 8. 

Louisville was one spot ahead of the Cats at No. 19. Indiana dropped to No. 22. South Carolina, who UK plays Feb. 13 in Columbia, came in at No. 25.

In perhaps the biggest poll story of the week, Duke (15-6) dropped out of the poll for the first time since the 2006-07 season.


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