Basketball Season Coverage
By Jack Pilgrim on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 11:30pm
Well that felt good, huh? For the first time since conference play began back on January 5, the Kentucky Wildcats knocked off the rust early and cruised the rest of the way to take home a 69-49 victory over Georgia on the road.
It wasn’t pretty to start with, but a burst of energy to start the second half helped lead the Wildcats to their third consecutive victory in the SEC and an overall record of 13-3.
Here are my top ten takeaways from Kentucky’s big victory:
Another slow start…
Following a disappointing 77-75 loss on the road at Alabama, Kentucky managed back-to-back victories against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, but the focus following each matchup had more to do with the head-scratching slow starts against lesser competition than the victories themselves.
On the road against a 9-6 Georgia team that had seen losses against teams such as Temple, Georgia State, and Arizona State, the trend continued, as the Wildcats found themselves down 6-11 early and then later tied at 29-29 with just 3:16 remaining in the first half.
They pushed ahead to take a 35-31 lead at the break, but Kentucky’s “meh” performance still left Wildcat fans frustrated about playing down to their competition yet again.
… led to a dominant second half finish
Whatever Kentucky lost in the first half was quickly found in the second, as the Wildcats managed four straight baskets to open the half to take a comfortable 44-31 lead. The rest was history, as Kentucky cruised to a 20-point beatdown in front of a rowdy Georgia fanbase.
The intensity picked up on both ends, thriving on the Bulldogs’ confusion and converting on their mistakes. As Georgia continued to jack up unnecessary three-pointers, Kentucky pushed the ball in transition and added to their lead.
On the day, the Wildcats finished with a higher field goal percentage than the Bulldogs (43.8 percent to 3o.4 percent), outrebounded them 43-35, managed just ten turnovers compared to their 14, had more assists, more steals, and fewer personal fouls. The Cats dominated in all aspects of the game.
Kentucky finished with their largest margin of victory (20) since SEC play began to start the month and it was the biggest since their 90-44 victory over Monmouth on November 29. For a team that needed a bit of momentum, they got it.
And a lot of it had to do with the following individual…
Ashton Hagans is Kentucky’s best player
It’s official, Big Blue Nation. Kentucky’s best player has been established, and his name is Ashton Hagans.
Finishing with a career-high 23 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals, and just one turnover, Hagans was a menace on both ends of the floor.
On offense, the Kentucky freshman was able to get wherever he wanted on the court against the Georgia defense, driving his way to the basket and even knocking a couple jumpers down to keep the opposition off-balance throughout the game. On defense, it was yet another elite performance for Hagans, jumping the passing lanes and taking advantage of even the slightest mistakes made by Bulldog ball handlers. It was as complete of a performance as we’ve seen from any Kentucky player all season long.
Following his 23-point, three-steal performance, Hagans has now managed five consecutive double-digit games and six consecutive three-steal games, the first to accomplish that feat in Kentucky basketball history.
To take it a step further, the Covington, GA native managed the second-most points in the Calipari era for a player taking on a team from his home state since Brandon Knight scored 24 against Florida in 2011. While some Kentucky players have struggled in homecoming games over the last several years, Hagans thrived in the spotlight.
Just as a friendly reminder, Hagans is technically still supposed to be a senior in high school right now. Seriously. This is a kid that should be finishing up his final high school basketball season, preparing for prom, and picking up his cap and gown to graduate with his peers. The Kentucky coaching staff (specifically assistant coach Joel Justus) put in the extra work to get him here on time and play catch-up, giving him the tools he needed to find his footing as a college basketball player. It took him a little while, but there’s no doubt Hagans has finally broken through as a superstar in the SEC.
Tyler Herro had a quiet all-around performance
While Hagans was easily the biggest star of the evening, Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro also quietly put together one of his most complete performances of the season. The Wildcat out of Greenfield, WI managed 12 points (4-10 shooting), seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals on the day, making a solid impact on both ends of the floor.
Against Vanderbilt, Herro finished with just four points on 1-3 shooting to go with six rebounds and three assists. It was his lowest scoring output since the second game of the season against Southern Illinois.
He didn’t light up the scoreboard necessarily, but he did more than enough elsewhere to help contribute to the big victory.
PJ Washington got things going again
Like Herro, Washington failed to get much going against Vanderbilt, finishing with just three points on 1-4 shooting, eight rebounds, and one assist. For the vast majority of the game, the Kentucky sophomore was invisible on the floor.
Tonight, however, Washington got things going again by finishing with ten points on 4-6 shooting and 1-1 from three, also adding six rebounds on the day.
Instead of floating around the perimeter, he got back to what he knows best, driving to the basket and dominating against weaker defenders. Washington is a bully-ball playmaker, and after an overall unimpressive performance last outing, we got to see what we love most about the Kentucky sophomore once again.
… but Reid Travis’ struggles continued
He got off to a hot start by scoring Kentucky’s first two buckets and then he eventually added another with 5:45 remaining in the half, but from there, the Wildcat graduate transfer was unable to get anything going after intermission.
And it wasn’t even that he didn’t contribute in the scoring column in the second half. It had more to do with the fact that he is struggling in a major way to score against long and athletic defenders in the SEC right now, and on the other end of the floor, guarding those same individuals on defense is proving to be extremely difficult. John Calipari told ESPN that the Kentucky senior is overthinking things right now and trying to do too much, and it’s certainly evident.
He finished with six points, five rebounds, and one assist on the night, but even that might paint the picture a little better than the actual result. Would a lineup or rotation change help? Would he be better suited coming off the bench? I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that’s a question we might be coming across sooner rather than later.
Could Nick Richards be the answer?
With Travis struggling against athletic bigs, it may be time to push Sophomore Nick Richards higher up in the rotation and give him more minutes moving forward.
The Wildcat center finished with just four points on 2-5 shooting, but his effort on defense was a major spark for Kentucky in their big run to open things up in the second half. He managed seven rebounds, three blocks, and just one (questionable) foul, and it seemed some of his biggest moments came in momentum-swinging situations.
To say he’s had an up and down career from a productivity standpoint through his first year and a half as a Wildcat would be an understatement, but his play as of late absolutely warrants more minutes in the rotation. I might even be willing to listen to arguments for Richards making a jump into the starting lineup going forward to switch things up a bit.
Where has Keldon Johnson been to open SEC play?
Shooting 0-6 from the field and 0-1 from three for a career-low zero points, it just wasn’t Keldon Johnson’s day against the Bulldogs. His previous career-low was eight points, and even that felt like an underwhelming performance for the Wildcat star out of South Hill, VA averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on the year.
On defense, Johnson wasn’t much better, allowing Georgia offensive players to make easy drives to the bucket and take uncontested jumpers on the perimeter. He did finish with three rebounds, two assists, and one steal on the day, but I have a feeling the film room sessions aren’t going to play in the star Wildcat’s favor to close out the week.
He has gone from scoring 13 points to 8, and then 15 to zero here to start conference play, and focus on both ends of the floor has fluctuated on a possession by possession and game by game basis. There’s no doubt Johnson will turn things around, but hopefully that comes sooner rather than later.
Jemarl Baker was big off the bench
Once again, Kentucky redshirt freshman Jemarl Baker came in and turned heads in limited action. In just 13 minutes, Baker drilled two massive three-pointers for six points, along with one assist, one rebound, and one steal on the day. On the defensive end of the floor, the shooting guard out of California proved once more he’s not a liability, providing solid defensive possessions both on-ball and off.
If Baker can come in and do nothing but knock down a big three or two off the bench every night moving forward, it’ll be huge come tournament time for the Wildcats.
Tom Crean still creeps me out
Kentucky came to town for the first time in the Tom Crean era at Georgia, and once again, we got a few weird/fantastic moments from our ‘ole pal Clappy.
At the 14:54 mark in the second half, ESPN aired a brief piece of Crean coming onto the practice floor and showing the world what proper free throw technique looks like. Even though I’m sure his intentions were in the right place, it felt like an old VHS tape from the 1980s of a YMCA rec-league coach in action. If you had to ask yourself, “What the hell is going on?” throughout the segment, you weren’t alone.
We also got this gem of a photo from the night:
— David Scott (@Finna_Go_HAM) January 16, 2019
Even during his interaction in the postgame handshake line with John Calipari, Crean had a few too many pats on the back for the Kentucky head coach:
Tom Crean tapped John Calipari’s arm FOURTEEN times in the postgame handshake. pic.twitter.com/gv58OZhVUJ
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) January 16, 2019
I was disappointed when it looked like Kentucky would never face Crean following his departure at Indiana, but goodness am I glad the Cats get to take him on at least once a year now that he’s at Georgia.
Now at 13-3 and 3-1 in the SEC, things are trending in the right direction for the Kentucky Wildcats. Let’s keep it rolling against Auburn on Saturday.
Ashton Hagans is no traitor, he says, but that didn’t stop the Georgia student section (and some grown men in red sweaters) from chanting “TRAITOR!” Hagans’ direction from the moment he stepped on the floor in pregame warmups until the game was completely out of reach late in the second half.
The one-time Georgia commit and Player of the Year in the Peach State heard the taunts from the fan base that once celebrated him, but he stuck to the plan: get the win in front of the 15-plus family members and close friends who were there to cheer him on, most of whom were wearing UK jerseys (No. 2, of course).
“When I heard the crowd booing me, it was just like ‘let me try to go out here and put on a show,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t a traitor, but that’s what everybody says. I just tried to play my game. I was home, so I tried to put on a show for my family.”
And put on a show, he did. Hagans set a new career-high in scoring with 23 points in addition to his five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“Coach put me in a role — he let me have the ball more and let me find open guys,” he explained. “I’m just going back to playing my game, how I was in high school; finding my shooters, attacking the basket and looking for my bigs. But I’m just loving how I’m playing these past couple games and gotta keep it going.”
See all the fun from the locker room celebration:
Happy Homecoming ? pic.twitter.com/esntxbpJcO
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 16, 2019
Hear more from the star of the game:
By Drew Franklin on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 10:34pm
Ashton Hagans was the star of the game, but Nick Richards’ performance should not go unnoticed. Calipari said his sophomore big man was “unbelievable” in Athens in how he played off the bench.
Afterward, Richards said he takes pride in “bringing that spark,” a role he has embraced.
He had a lot to say about Hagans’ homecoming and Hagans’ importance to the team too.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 10:22pm
Over the past few weeks, John Calipari has insisted that Nick Richards is the key to Kentucky becoming a championship caliber squad; tonight, we saw why.
The sophomore big man finished with four points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes, which may not sound like the best stat line in the world, but his impact went beyond the box score. After Kentucky’s starters allowed Georgia to own the middle with five dunks in the first six minutes, Nick came in and helped reestablish Kentucky’s post presence, blocking three shots and drawing two charges. Calipari was pleased…mostly.
“The only thing he did one time, he left the basket to go block a shot he had no chance of getting that opened up the rim for a tip in. We don’t want him doing that. We want him around the goal, and if the guy puts his head down and keeps coming, take the charge. But, we’ve been working on charging and loose balls every day for the last ten days because three games prior to this, I don’t think we took a charge.”
As has been the case his entire career, Nick’s issue is confidence. Performances like this one will go a long way to helping him bust out of his shell.
“I’ve got — I’ll give you an example. Nick Richards, who was unbelievable today. We’ve got guys who are too — there’s some anxiety, they’re pressing personally. ‘I’ve gotta have, I’ve gotta play, if I don’t take –‘ Well, then you can’t play. Nick led the troops with that, that anxiety, that pressure. Pressing himself. He just played today. Now, he scored four points but it doesn’t matter. Anybody would want him on their team.”
Maybe he should start. Just saying.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 9:53pm
Kentucky players typically don’t fare well in their homecoming games, but Ashton Hagans used the hate from the Georgia crowd as fuel for a career night.
The former Georgia commit finished with 23 points, the fourth time in the last five games he’s eclipsed his career-high in scoring. He also had five rebounds, four assists, and
three four steals (UPDATE: After the game, UK added a steal to Hagans’ total that was originally credited to Tyler Herro). This is the sixth game in which Hagans has had three or more steals, the longest such streak since steals became an official NCAA statistic in 1985-86. With the Georgia crowd booing him and calling him “traitor” during warm-ups, that had to feel good.
“I’m built for this,” Hagans said in a postgame interview with ESPN’s Laura Rutledge. “I just try to go out there and like I said, play my game, attack the basket, if there’s slagging off me, try to knock down a shot. That comes from being in the gym and being under Cal. He’s a hard coach. He’s on you everyday, he wants you to play hard. I just love this game and I’m happy to be home.”
Hagans had a big cheering section at Stegeman Coliseum, all decked out in No. 2 Kentucky jerseys, most notably, his father. Ashton said making them proud was a priority tonight.
“I’m home so I had to try to put on a show,” Ashton said. “I feel like they were very excited. My dad, I don’t think he sat down the whole time. I saw him back there, the whole game. He was telling me to keep my foot on the pedal. That’s what I was trying to do. I just showed out for my family. I tried to do that.”
After a rough shooting start, Ashton hit his stride in the second half and silenced the crowd. “Traitor” chants aside, he said he still has a soft spot in his heart for his home state Bulldogs.
“There’s no hate. Coach Fox left so I just changed my mind. Loyalty over anything. I still love Dawg Nation but I’m a Wildcat now.”
Not DawgNation.com though, right?
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 9:28pm
If I told you Kentucky would be able to beat a team on the road by 20 without a single point from their leading scorer, would you believe me? Well, it happened tonight.
Keldon Johnson, who leads the team in scoring this season with 14.6 points, was 0-6 in 27 minutes tonight. He did have three rebounds, two assists, and a steal, but that zero in the points column jumped right out at John Calipari when he glanced at the box score in the postgame press conference. In true Cal form, he turned it into a positive.
“Oh, he had a goose egg. Ewww! He didn’t have any. Oh, man. Isn’t that great? Because he’s one of our best players. But you have these nights. You know who went in and played well for him? Jemarl Baker. Played well. Here’s what I said last night to them. Here’s the greatest thing about our team is we’ve got guys. And if one of you guards doesn’t play well, we have another guard that can play well. If one of you bigs isn’t playing well or two of you, we still have enough guys.
“So you have to worry about getting yourself ready to play for our team. If you’re playing that well, we’ll have a little rotation, maybe some guys get a little less minutes than the other, but the great thing about this program historically, last ten years, is numbers doesn’t matter. If you can play, it isn’t how many points or shots or rebounds. Because of Keldon played this well, no one will think less of him. He had no points and they’re gonna still say, that kid is one of the best in the country. He had no points. That’s the greatest thing about here.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 9:07pm
Drew Franklin is at Stegeman Coliseum to bring you John Calipari’s postgame remarks. Watch live via our YouTube page:
By Nick Roush on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 8:55pm
Ashton Hagans threw a homecoming party in Athens. The Kentucky point guard’s career night sparked Kentucky to a 69-49 win over Georgia.
Tom Crean’s squad kept it close in the first half by building an early 11-6 lead. When Hagans left the halftime locker room, the game was over.
The Cartersville, Georgia native scored the first seven points of the second half to help Kentucky take a 13-point lead. From that point on, the game never got closer than eight. Hagans finished with a career-high 23 points, five rebounds and four assists. He stole at least three passes for the sixth straight game, all while committing just one turnover.
Hagans received plenty of help in the second half from two unexpected sources. Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery, who played high school basketball in the state of Georgia last year, came off the bench to disrupt Georgia’s lengthy offense. Richards grabbed five rebounds, blocked three shots and created two more turnovers by drawing a pair of charges.
Kentucky’s dominance extended into unfamiliar territory. The Cats did it all without a point from Keldon Johnson. John Calipari did not get any offensive production from his leading scorer, but he did see Kentucky play its best three-point defense of the season, holding Georgia to 4-of-27 from behind the arc (14.8 percent).
After messing around in no-man’s land for a few games, Kentucky blew out an SEC opponent in a feel good win at the perfect time, thanks to Coach Cal’s next superstar point guard, Ashton Hagans.
By Nick Roush on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 7:50pm
Once again, Kentucky dug itself into a hole. Once again, they found a way to dig out of it.
Georgia dunked its way to an early 11-6 lead over UK. The Cats responded with a 12-3 run to take lead by the second TV timeout. Ashton Hagans has been exceptional in his homecoming, but Coach Cal is still waiting for Keldon Johnson to snap out of his funk. The first half stats:
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 6:45pm
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By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 6:44pm
How did Georgia fans greet Ashton Hagans, the Kentucky guard once committed to the Bulldogs? Not kindly. According to Herald-Leader photographer Charles Bertram, a group of Georgia fans chanted “traitor” at Hagans during warm-ups:
.@KentuckyMBB Ashton Hagans was greeted by “traitor” chants as he and the team warmed up before playing Georgia in Athens. He had committed to Georgia before switching to UK. @KentuckySports @heraldleader @JerryTipton @johnclayiv pic.twitter.com/QDAmMOXpux
— Charles Bertram (@cbertramHL) January 15, 2019
Hagans, a Cartersville, Georgia native, was all set to play for his home state Bulldogs before Mark Fox was fired. From there, he reopened his recruitment and chose Kentucky. Tom Crean said he has no hard feelings over Hagans’ decision, but clearly some Georgia fans do.
Thankfully, it sounds like Hagans is embracing his role as villain:
My spies on the ground in Athens, Ga. just told me Ashton Hagans came out of the lockerroom blowing kisses to the booing fans.
He gives no cares.
And I love it.???@KentuckyMBB @H23Ash ?@UKSportsNetwork pic.twitter.com/Aie11geNSp
— Rex Chapman?? (@rex_rexchapman) January 15, 2019
Time to mess around a get a triple double, Ashton.
John Calipari and Tom Crean share quite a bit of history. Some of it fairs well for Kentucky. Most recently Crean left the court victorious, searching for scissors to cut down the nets.
Dating back to his time at Marquette, Crean is 4-4 against UK. As Indiana’s head coach, Crean only claimed two wins over Kentucky. One was immortalized on a popcorn box. The other happened in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Instead of funny Crean faces, we got a memorable GIF…
…and a viral crying Kentucky fan.
Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray played their part, combining for 43 of Kentucky’s 67 points, but the Cats simply had no answer for Thomas Bryant. The athletic Indiana post, and former Calipari recruit, made 6-of-8 shots to finish with 19 points and 5 rebounds. Yogi Ferrell scored 18 and Troy Williams added 13 to propel IU to a 73-67 victory in Des Moines.
It’s the only time a Calipari tournament team failed to make it to the second weekend. A loss we’d all like to forget, if that served as retribution for Kentucky’s thrilling 2012 Sweet 16 win over Crean’s Hoosiers, so be it.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 15th, 2019 @ 3:59pm
According to Georgia, tonight’s game vs. Kentucky has been sold out since October, but a quick glance at the secondary ticket markets suggests you can still get into Stegeman Coliseum for a very low price.
Upper level tickets are going for as low as $17 on Vivid Seats, lower level for as low as $37. By my count, approximately 250 tickets are still up for grabs on secondary markets, so if you live in the Athens/Atlanta area and are even toying with the idea of making the trip, get in that car and go.
One part of the 10,500-seat arena that will be full is the student section. Starting this morning, students lined up to get wristbands for the game:
The student section has SOLD OUT. Can’t wait to see everyone tonight! Don’t forget: doors open at 5:30pm. Students must have their wristband and UGA id for admission at Gate G! #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/BKDWVllAQv
— Georgia Basketball (@UGABasketball) January 15, 2019
Here’s the line for student ticket wristbands, circa 20 minutes ago. The Georgia-Kentucky game is tonight at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/DAFBxuXgJ3
— Henry Queen (@C_HenryQueen) January 15, 2019
Tom Crean issued this plea to Georgia fans yesterday.
“We need them to be here early, to be loud, to be crazy, obnoxious, whatever it takes early on to establish themselves. Just for them to be into the game and help us through everything. If we are on a run, help us keep going. If we have to get a run going, help us get that going. Continue to read the game the way they have and just be loud.”
Kentucky failed the “Everybody’s Super Bowl” test at Alabama a week and a half ago. Will they keep their composure when Stegeman gets rocking tonight?