ATLANTA – Making up arguably the nation’s best backcourt in the country, Kentucky guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray have been named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason List by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.
Kentucky is one of just six players with two players on the midseason list.
Named in honor of Dr. James Naismith, founder of the game of basketball, the Naismith Trophy is awarded annually to the women’s and men’s college basketball players of the year. First awarded in 1969 to UCLA’s Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Naismith Trophy was sculpted by Marty C. Dawe of Atlanta and has become one of the most prestigious national honors awarded each year to the top women’s and men’s college basketball players in the nation.
Each year, the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s board of selectors, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country, vote on player performance to ultimately select the winners.
The midseason list usually includes 30 players, but 35 are on this year’s list because of ties in the balloting.
Ulis, who was named to the John R. Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list on Wednesday, has had a spectacular sophomore season in leading Kentucky to an 18-6 record and 8-3 mark in the Southeastern Conference.
The 5-foot-9 guard is averaging 16.2 points, a team-best 6.4 assists per game – which ranks second in the SEC – and boasts an SEC-best 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s scored 20 or more points in nine of his last 13 games, averaging 19.5 points and 7.3 assists while shooting 50.6 percent over that stretch.
The Chicago native is the only player in the SEC averaging at least 16.0 points and 6.4 assists or better. He is one of just five players nationally to achieve that feat (Kahil Felder, Oakland; Kris Dunn, Providence; Juan’Ya Green, Hofstra; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State;) and the lone underclassman.
With 20 points and five assists at Tennessee, Ulis has posted 10 games this season with at least 20 points and at least five assists in the same game, the most by a Wildcat in any season since 1972-73.
Ulis’ value is probably best represented by his performances in Kentucky’s biggest games. He’s averaging a team-best 21.7 points and a team-high 7.3 assists in UK’s three games vs. ranked opponents. He shot 54.5 percent with a 5.5 assist-to-turnover ratio in those games.
He is also only the second player at UK since 1972-73 (the first year UK has full game-by-game assist numbers for) with have at least four assists in 17 consecutive games in a single season. Roger Harden also did it 17 times.
Murray is proving to be one of the most prolific scorers in the country. Averaging 18.5 points per game, he ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring and fifth nationally among all freshmen. If the season ended today, Murray would finish with the highest scoring average in the John Calipari era at Kentucky. Brandon Knight, in 2010-11, ended the season at 17.3 points per game.
The Kitchener, Ontario native is shooting 40.2 percent from behind the arc, seventh in the SEC, and is hitting 3.0 3-point field goals per game, ranked third in the league. He has made a 3-point field goal in all 24 games this season, the only player in program history to do that to start a career, and he’s the first UK player since Darius Miller (2010-11) to make a trey in 24 straight games.
Murray has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, including 22 straight. The last player to score in double figures in that many consecutive games was Brandon Knight in 2010-11.
Among Murray’s biggest scoring outputs this season include a 35-point outing against Florida and a 33-point afternoon vs. Ohio State. His 35 points vs. Florida tied Terrence Jones (Jan. 11, 2011 vs. Auburn) for the single-game school record scoring mark by a freshman. It also tied Jones for the most points in a single game in the Calipari era. He’s the only freshman in school history with two 30-point games in a season.