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Derek Willis scores 25 as No. 14 Kentucky continues winning way

Derek Willis

Kentucky’s Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)


Jamal Murray scored 28 points and Tyler Ulis finished with 11 points and nine assists despite shooting just 3-for-15 from the floor as No. 14 Kentucky beat Tennessee in Rupp Arena, 80-70, despite a bit of an off-night.

This was just the second time in the last 15 games that Ulis failed to score more than 14 points, but he still was able to make plays off the dribble while committing just two turnovers. Murray continued his terrific play, as he’s now averaging 28.3 points over the course of the last four games, a stretch where’s shot 56.7 percent from beyond the arc.

But the story of this game was Derek Willis.

The story of this Kentucky team is the back court. When Ulis and Murray play the way that they have over the course of the last two weeks, the Wildcats are by far the best team in the SEC and capable of getting to the Final Four.

One of the reasons that those two have been able to take over of late has been the addition of Derek Willis to the starting lineup. Willis is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward from Kentucky. He was, at one point, a top 50 recruit in the country, but when he graduated high school, he was rated as a three-star prospect and had spent his first two years in Lexington as a bit-player, seeing time about as often as the walk-ons.

What Willis can do, however, is shoot, and thanks to his size, length and athleticism, he fits in perfectly with this UK team in a stretch-four role. He can hold his own defensively against bigger opponents, but his ability to shoot spreads the floor in a way that isn’t possible when Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee are on the floor together.

That was perfectly evident on Thursday night, as Willis scored 25 points, hitting 7-for-11 from beyond the arc. The Wildcats don’t need him to do that on a nightly basis, because the threat of that happening will be enough to create space for Ulis to make plays.