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Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray claim Southeastern Conference weekly awards

Kentucky coach John Calipari always wants his team playing its best basketball in March. If last week was any indication, the Wildcats are on their way to meeting their coach’s expectations.

Freshmen Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere were named the Southeastern Conference’s Player and Freshman of the Week after leading the Wildcats to their 47th SEC regular-season championship last weekend.

Skal Labissiere was named SEC Freshman of the Week Monday (Bill Thiry Photo)

Skal Labissiere was named SEC Freshman of the Week Monday (Bill Thiry Photo)

With their honors, Kentucky concludes the season leading the league with 11 total weekly honors this season. In addition to Murray’s five, sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis has garnered three honors, while Labissiere has hauled in two SEC Freshman of the Week honors and Isaiah Briscoe was once tabbed the league’s top-performing freshman.

Labissiere returned to the starting lineup and enjoyed a breakout week for Kentucky. Labissiere averaged 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in two victories over Florida and LSU. He began the week with an 11-point, eight-rebound effort at Florida.

He made his first start since Dec. 19 and was a force to be reckoned with from the opening tip. His eight rebounds were the most of his career and the 11 points were the most since scoring 12 against Missouri on Jan. 27.

Labissiere followed it up with the best all-around game of his career in a must-win game against LSU to claim a share of the SEC title. Labissiere poured in 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting while topping his previous career high from earlier in the week with nine rebounds. He also added a career-high six blocks, which were the most for a Wildcat since Karl-Anthony Towns had six against Florida last season.

The 18 points were the second-most points this season for the freshman. Labissiere’s strong offensive output enabled sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis to total a career-high 14 assists – five of which were points converted by Labissiere. Labissiere also played 25 minutes against the Tigers, which were the most minutes since he played 25 against Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 9.

Murray has brought consistency and unselfishness to his game as the Wildcats head into March playing their best basketball of the season. Murray led the way offensively for the Wildcats this week at 21.5 points per game while adding 4.0 assists per outing in wins over Florida and LSU.

Murray continued his streak of 20 or more point performances with 21 at Florida and 22 in the regular-season finale against LSU on Saturday. Murray shot 50 percent from the field and 57 percent from behind the arc as he drained four 3-pointers in both contests. He also got to the foul line for at least six makes in both games.

Murray has continued to be a consistent performer on the boards as well. He has hauled in seven or more rebounds in four of his last six games, including both games this week. Murray’s back-to-back games with four assists are the most since dishing out four against EKU (Dec. 9) and five versus Arizona State on Dec. 12.

Ulis finalist for Cousy award

Ulis has been named one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Named after Hall of Fame guard Bob Cousy, the annual honor recognizes the top point guard in Division I men’s basketball.

Ulis’ competition includes Yogi Ferrell of Indiana, Monte Morris from Iowa State, Oakland’s Kahlil Felder and Kris Dunn of Providence.

A national committee comprised of top college basketball personnel determined the initial watch list of 20 candidates in October, trimmed it down to 10 in February and now named the final five finalists in March. The annual honor, which is now in its 13th season, will be presented to the winner at the ESPN College Basketball Awards Show in Los Angeles on April 8.

The winner of the Cousy Award will be determined by a combination of fan votes and input from the Basketball Hall of Fame’s selection committee. Fans are encouraged to visit HoophallAwards.com to cast their votes March 11-25.

Previous winners of the Bob Cousy Award include Delon Wright, Utah (2015); Shabazz Napier, Connecticut (2014); Trey Burke, Michigan (2013); Kendall Marshall, North Carolina (2012); Kemba Walker, Connecticut (2011); Greivis Vasquez, Maryland (2010); Ty Lawson, North Carolina (2009); DJ Augustin, Texas (2008); Acie Law, Texas A&M (2007); Dee Brown, Illinois (2006); Raymond Felton, North Carolina (2005. and Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph’s (2004).

Ulis is looking to become the first Kentucky guard to win the award.

Already a three-time winner of the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week award and a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award, Ulis has become one of the unquestionable top players in college basketball, regardless of position.

Ulis is averaging 16.6 points, an SEC-best 7.4 assists (sixth nationally) and a league-best 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio (fifth nationally). He’s dished out 10 or more assists in six of his last nine games and scored 20 or more points in 11 of his last 20 games.

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 (Kahil Felder, Oakland; Juan’Ya Green, Hofstra; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State) and the lone underclassman.

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.

In league play, Ulis averaged 8.4 assists with a 4.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. He played 672 of a possible 725 minutes in SEC games, committing a turnover every 19.8 minutes per game.

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.

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.

Ulis and the Wildcats earned a double-bye in the SEC Tournament and won’t play until the quarterfinals on Friday. UK will play the winner of the Alabama-Ole Miss game on Friday at 7 p.m. in Nashville, Tenn., on the SEC Network.

Ulis was named a first-team All-American and Murray a second-team All-American by USA Today Monday.

From UK Athletics

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