CHICAGO — Chicago native Tyler Ulis carved up No. 5 Duke on Tuesday at the Champions Classic, carrying No. 2 Kentucky to a 74-63 victory.
The 5-foot-9 point guard posted game-highs of 18 points, six assists at the United Center without turning over the ball once. He also shot 6-of-13 from the field and drained all six of his free throw attempts. The scoring total was a career-high, as were his 40 minutes of playing time.
Ulis’ dominant performance received high praise from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“The gene pool was good to him. They didn’t give him height, but they gave him a heart that’s five times bigger than most people,” Krzyzewski said. “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’s the face of a winner and a really good leader.”
This is the second time Ulis has gotten to play in front of a hometown crowd. Last year, Kentucky competed in the CBS Sports Classic, also at the United Center.
He came off the bench against North Carolina and dished out a game-high eight assists, which remains a career-high for the budding star.
“He’s kind of like a baseball player that watches the ball and he can see the seams, the game’s happening slower for him,” Calipari said.
The 5-foot-9 guard from Marian Catholic has succeeded in front of Chicagoans, but he said he approaches playing at home the same way as any other game.
“It doesn’t matter about coming home or where we’re playing,” Ulis said. “I just come out there and try to do what I need to win.”
One quality Kentucky needs out of Ulis this season is leadership. The Wildcats started three freshmen and brought two others off the bench.
Two of those freshmen are Ulis’ backcourt mates, guards Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe, who also had impressive performances. Murray netted 16 points in addition to five assists and four steals. Briscoe had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
The group has already earned consideration as possibly the nation’s best backcourt this season.
“I have to try and lead by example and vocally because I have more experience than them,” Ulis said.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was pleased not only with Ulis’ stat line Tuesday, but also his management of the team.
“You see his leadership ability on the court; you just feel it,” Calipari said. “When he’s off the court, you know we’re not the same.”