February 16, 2015

John Calipari entrusts the Kentucky offense to Tyler Ulis because he recognizes when to score and when to become a distributor.

But the sophomore point guard has added plenty of mileage on his diminutive body lately, and Calipari is trying to figure out the best way to handle Ulis' minutes.

Calipari is hoping Ulis and the 20th-ranked Wildcats start strong Tuesday night against a Tennessee team that has jumped out to big leads recently only to come up short down the stretch.

Ulis leads Kentucky (16-5, 6-2 SEC) in scoring during conference play at 19.3 points per game and also tops the league with an average of 6.9 assists over those eight contests. He's also playing an SEC-most 36.8 minutes in that stretch, though.

He scored a career-high 26 points and added eight assists Saturday at then-No. 4 Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but he played all 45 minutes and made a crucial turnover at the end of regulation in a 90-84 overtime loss.

Ulis is averaging 22.8 points while shooting 58.9 percent over his last four. He got a bit of a break in Wednesday's 88-54 rout of Missouri by playing 29 minutes, just the second time this season he's played fewer than 30.

"I tried to take him out a couple times (Saturday) and he's begging me to leave him in," Calipari said of the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Ulis. "We're trying to come up with something we're comfortable with. With his weight and size, it's not normal. What I do want to do is play him every minute he can be out there playing at his pace."

Four starters played at least 37 minutes, with Jamal Murray (15 points), Alex Poythress (13) and Isaiah Briscoe (12) also scoring in double figures. Kentucky shot 53.2 percent and is at 53.5 over the last three, but it went 5 of 23 from 3-point range.

The loss snapped the Wildcats' three-game winning streak and dropped them to 2-4 in true road games.

''Our last four games, they've fought like heck,'' Calipari said. "Teaching them how to win and how to finish off games is on me. That's my job. Their job is to go there and fight like crazy."

Burying Tennessee (10-11, 3-5) early would be ideal, but the Wildcats know they shouldn't be counted out even if that plan doesn't come to fruition. The Volunteers lost 63-57 at Alabama last Tuesday and 75-63 at TCU on Saturday despite leading both games by at least 14 in the second half.

They also led by 13 in a 92-88 loss to now-No. 8 Texas A&M on Jan. 19 and are one of two Division I teams to blow at least three second-half leads of that size this season.

Those last two defeats followed a 78-69 win over then-No. 24 South Carolina on Jan. 23 that coach Rick Barnes hoped would get them on track.

''We're playing against teams that are going to fight back,'' Barnes said. "When that happens, when they start coming back, how do we respond? That's what we haven't done a really good job of.''

Kevin Punter Jr. has been a bright spot with 24.0 points per game in conference play, and he scored exactly that many in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday.

Barnes, a good friend of Calipari's, is trying to turn around the program as Tennessee's third coach in as many seasons after being let go by Texas.

''He is a guy that I've called on many times as my teams struggled, as I struggled, (and said to him), `Talk to me. Tell me what you'd do here. How would you do this?'" Calipari said. ''I'm telling you, he's one of the best in our business - one of the best.''

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