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Rick Barnes understands Ulis “loves the game”


Tyler Ulis (Vicky Graff Photo)

Tyler Ulis (Vicky Graff Photo)

Kentucky takes a three-game winning streak into Thursday night’s game with Tennessee and during that time sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis has averaged 19.7 points, 10.3 assists and 36.7 minutes per game. He’s also made just three turnovers in those 110 minutes of play.

That has vaulted him into the SEC Player of the Year conversation and maybe national player of the year if he maintains this pace.

“I love him. I said going into the last game, when you’re his size and you compete – and I would say he does a lot of great things well, but I think he’s just a big-time competitor,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “A guy that I think his teammates feed off of him.

“I know that he showed me some stuff in our game where right in front of me, it looked like he turned his ankle, and he simply tied his shoe up tighter and kept playing. To me, that talks about a guy that loves the game. He has a passion for it.

“I think when you look at – when you talk about player of the year, all this and all that, you have to look at the top teams in the country. So that when you’re one of the top teams in the country and your conference, you have to have the players to do that. You look at what he’s done and the way I think he’s just grinded it out all year, I mean, he certainly has to be in the conversation with anybody for that award.”

In SEC play, he’s averaging 19.4 points and 7.6 assists per game. He has a 4.3 assist-to-turnover ratio — compared to 2.9 ratio non-SEC play — and is shooting 36.5 percent from 3-point range. That’s up from 30.2 percent in non-league play.

Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy will get a look at Ulis when UK plays at A&M Saturday, but he already knows Ulis has to be a top candidate for SEC player of the year.

“A veteran who makes everybody around him better and runs that team and has good command and control of what they do offensively and defensively. I think he’s definitely somebody that needs to be strongly considered, especially with Kentucky playing as well as they are and in the position they are in to possibly win the league,” Kennedy said.

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