Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis was named the Southeastern Conference’s player and defensive player of the year to highlight the league’s coaches’ vote announced Tuesday. Freshman sharpshooter Jamal Murray joined Ulis on the All-SEC First Team, while also earning All-SEC Freshman Team honors. In addition to the SEC Player of the Year honors and First Team All-SEC honors, Ulis headlined the All-Defensive Team.
At 5-foot-9, Ulis is the shortest player in the history of the award to win SEC Player of the Year.
Ulis and Murray, arguably the best backcourt duo in the country, have been recognized for their stellar regular seasons as the only school with two members on the All-SEC First Team. The duo was joined by Alabama’s Retin Obasohan, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Ole Miss’s Stefan Moody, South Carolina’s Michael Carrera, Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones and Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones.
Kentucky’s dynamic backcourt led the country in scoring within league play among the major conferences (Power 5 plus the American and the Big East). Together, they combined for 40.8 points per game for UK, helping the Wildcats earn a share of their 47th regular-season SEC crown.
Ulis is the eighth Wildcat to win SEC Player of the Year honors as voted on by the league’s coaches and first since Anthony Davis took home the hardware in 2012. He’s the program’s fifth player selected as the top defender. Willie Cauley-Stein captured the same honor a season ago. Ulis and Davis, the former national player of the year and No. 1 overall draft pick, are the only players in league history to earn player of the year and defensive player of the year in the same season.
Murray and Ulis are the 17th and 18th players under head coach John Calipari to claim SEC honors. UK has had at least two players earn first-team honors in five of Calipari’s seven seasons.
Ulis has rewritten the UK record books during his sophomore campaign while generating an abundance of accolades following one of the most impressive seasons in Kentucky history. The 5-foot-9 guard played a league-high 36.8 minutes per game and averaged 16.6 points, 7.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals for the SEC co-champions. Within league play, Ulis logged 18.3 points, 8.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per outing.
The sophomore floor general ranks first in minutes per game (36.8), assists (7.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.8), second in free-throw percentage (.850), sixth in scoring (16.6) and seventh in steals per game (1.4). His eight double-doubles on the year are good for sixth in the league.
He has the single-season school record for most 20-point, five-assist games with 12, and according to the SEC Network, his three 20-point, 10-assist games this season are the most of any SEC player in the last 20 seasons.
Already third on the school’s single-season assists list with 221 dimes, he’s on pace to break John Wall’s single season record of 241 assists set in 2009-10. He is the only player with 24 consecutive games with four or more assists since at least 1972-73.
The Chicago native is the only player in the SEC averaging at least 16.6 points and 7.4 assists or better. He is one of just four players nationally to achieve that feat (Kahlil Felder, Oakland; Juan’ya Green, Hofstra; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State) and the lone underclassman.
Ulis’ value is probably best represented by his performances in Kentucky’s biggest games. He’s averaging a team-best 22.8 points and a team-high 9.0 assists in UK’s five games vs. ranked opponents in either the Associated Press Top 25 or the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. He shot 54.3 percent with a 5.0 assist-to-turnover ratio in those games.
Murray has been one of the nation’s best scorers all season long and led the league with five SEC Weekly award honors. He currently leads the Wildcats in scoring at 20.0 points per game, which, if the season ended today, would be the highest scoring average at Kentucky in the Calipari era. Brandon Knight, in 2010-11, finished at 17.3 points per game. Murray’s current average is the most for any player under Calipari since Dajuan Wagner averaged 21.2 points during the 2001-02 season at Memphis.
The Kitchener, Ontario, native averaged an SEC-high 22.4 points per game against league foes. He also hit an average of 3.72 3-pointers in SEC games. For the season, Murray ranks first in 3-point field-goals made per game (3.2), third in scoring (20.0), third in minutes per game (34.9), fourth in 3-point field-goal percentage (.421) and ninth in field-goal percentage (.451).
With 619 points this season, he trails only Knight (657 points in 2010-11) for the most points by a freshman in school history. He’s posted three 30-point games this season two of which came against league competition. The three 30-point games are the most by a freshman in school history, and his 35 points vs. Florida tied Terrence Jones (Jan. 11, 2011 vs. Auburn) for the school record single-game scoring mark by a freshman. It also tied Jones for the most points in a single game in the Calipari era.
Murray is the first Wildcat to reach double figures in 29 straight games since Jodie Meeks did it 32 times in 2008-09, and he’s currently on a 10-game streak of scoring 20 points or more. That’s the longest such streak for any UK player since Kevin Grevey topped 20 or more points in 12 straight games in 1974-75.
Having hit a 3-pointer in every game this season, Murray owns the UK freshman record for most 3-point field goals in a single season with 99, surpassing Knight’s previous record of 87. His 99 made 3-pointers are already third on the single-season 3-point field goal list, and he has a shot at breaking Stephen Curry’s NCAA freshman record for 3-point field goals in a season (122).