Basketball Season Coverage
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 1:30pm
It’s been a rough year for Missouri. After losing Jontay Porter to a torn ACL and MCL in mid-October, the Tigers have struggled to find their footing, going 12-12 so far this season, 3-9 in conference play. Coming off a big win vs. No. 1 Tennessee, John Calipari isn’t about to let his team overlook Mizzou, telling reporters on today’s SEC Teleconference that he knows the Tigers are capable of pulling off an upset in Columbia tomorrow night.
“Whatever their record is, there were two or three other games they had a chance to win,” Cal said. “They played at Tennessee and had their chances and did a great job in a hostile environment. So, we know that they’re good enough to beat us; we know that. Having their best player go down early affected their team but they’ve recovered from that.”
Missouri is led by 6’10” forward Jeremiah Tilmon, who scored 21 points in the Tigers’ win over Arkansas last week. Cal singled him out when asked which players he was concerned about tomorrow night.
“Cuonzo’s coaching his team and playing the way they have to play to win. One, you know his teams are always going to be good defensively, they’re going to lock you down and they’re gonna turn down ball screens and they’re gonna fight you on pick and rolls and fight you on pin downs. Then what he’s doing offensively, they’re playing through Tilmon as much as they can yet they’re taking 25 threes a game. Making eight.”
Tilmon fouled out of Missouri’s loss to Ole Miss on Saturday after only 15 minutes; good thing Kentucky’s got four bigs they can rotate against him.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 12:42pm
Kentucky’s loss to LSU on Tuesday dropped them to No. 6 in the NET Rankings on Friday, but the win over No. 1 Tennessee bumped them back into the top five. The latest rankings just came out and Kentucky is fifth behind Duke, Gonzaga, Virginia, and Houston. Tennessee dropped to sixth.
Here’s the NET top ten:
|RANK||PREVIOUS||SCHOOL||CONFERENCE||RECORD||ROAD||NEUTRAL||HOME||NON DIV I|
|7||7||Michigan St.||Big Ten||21-5||7-3||2-1||12-1||0-0|
|10||10||Texas Tech||Big 12||21-5||4-3||3-1||14-1||0-0|
What do the NET rankings mean? They’re merely a sorting tool the Selection Committee uses to compile team sheets. The ranking system factors in game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
The Selection Committee will use other criteria to seed teams, so don’t freak out too much about Houston being No. 4.
I’ll have Kentucky’s updated team sheet for you in just a bit.
Did I call it or did I call it? Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Tennessee boosted them to No. 4 in the new AP Poll, which just hit the presses.
Duke is the new No. 1 team in the land, followed by Gonzaga, Virginia, the Cats, and then the Vols.
Others receiving votes: Cincinnati 99, Wofford 32, Auburn 21, Washington 20, St. John’s 2, Mississippi St. 2, Mississippi 1, Yale 1.
After a dominant performance vs. Tennessee, PJ Washington has been named SEC Player of the Week.
Washington averaged 21.5 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and 1.5 steals against No. 19 LSU and No. 1 Tennessee. Saturday was his ninth 20-point game of the season and his seventh in the last eight games. He’s scored in double figures in ten straight games, the first player to do so since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last season.
This is PJ’s second SEC Player of the Week honor of the season. Earlier this month, he shared the award with Tennessee’s Jordan Bone, making him Kentucky’s first two-time winner since Tyler Ulis earned the award three times during the 2015-16 season. Anthony Davis and Julius Randle also won the award multiple times during their careers at Kentucky. Pretty good company.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 9:00am
Does the weekend have to be over? I don’t know about you guys, but I reveled in the win over No. 1 Tennessee all day yesterday, pretty much making up excuses to get out of the house so I could sport my Kentucky blue all over Nashville. It was one of those games I just couldn’t get enough of, eating up each moment through highlights, recaps, and social media like a starving man at a buffet.
For the first time in a while, it felt like Kentucky Basketball was BACK. The Cats didn’t just beat the number one team in the country, they ran them off the court, making even the most casual basketball fan sit up and take notice. For one blissful night, Duke and Zion Williamson were shoved to the side and Kentucky was the show again, a much-needed shot in the arm as we barrel towards March.
In fact, as Mitch Barnhart pointed out, it was a pretty incredible weekend for UK Athletics all around:
Big weekend for the #BBN, to say the least.
— Mitch Barnhart (@UKMitchBarnhart) February 18, 2019
— Mitch Barnhart (@UKMitchBarnhart) February 18, 2019
At some point today, we’ll move on and focus on Missouri but for now, I’m going to savor the win a little longer, sharing my favorite photos by Dr. Mike of a fantastic day in Lexington throughout the morning post (you can see them all on our Facebook page). Let’s go over today’s agenda.
Where will Kentucky land in the polls?
If Kentucky hadn’t lost to LSU, I think they’d crack the top three, but on the flip side, I don’t think they would pummeled Tennessee like they did had they beaten the Tigers. (Anger is a great motivator.) I predict this week’s top five will be 1) Duke, 2) Gonzaga, 3) Virginia, 4) Kentucky, 5) Tennessee. I have a sinking feeling the AP voters will still keep the Vols ahead of the Cats despite Saturday’s win, but if so, even more reason to beat them in Knoxville, right?
More important than the AP and Coaches Polls are the NET rankings, which will also be updated today. The Cats are currently No. 6 behind Gonzaga, Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, and Houston. I’ll bring you the new rankings when they drop and also update Kentucky’s team sheet. Less than a month until Selection Sunday! Speaking of, Seth Davis currently has Kentucky as a No. 1 seed:
This is how my 1 and 2 line looks right now. I see a lot of people still have Kentucky as a 2. They are all wrong. https://t.co/X2Bw9n4v7M
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 17, 2019
I’m sure Joe Lunardi and the Bracketheads will release new projections today too, so stay tuned.
Who will win SEC Player/Freshman of the Week?
Earlier this month, PJ Washington shared SEC Player of the Week honors with Tennessee’s Jordan Bone. After a dominant performance vs. the Vols, will PJ bring it home again? He definitely deserves it. We’ll find out in a few hours.
John Calipari in the morning
How is Cal feeling about his squad’s big win after a day of reflection? He’ll tell us on this morning’s SEC Teleconference, a call I’m sure he’ll take while walking into Dunkin’ Donuts, on the elliptical for his morning sweat, or any situation in which there’s a lot of background noise.
Kenny Payne in the afternoon
With Cal doing media in the morning, Kenny Payne will handle this afternoon’s media opportunity. Check the site around 2 p.m. for a live stream and recap of his comments, which are usually more insightful and interesting than Cal-speak.
Recruiting updates, including the latest on Keion Brooks
If you were too busy celebrating the Tennessee win to check the site yesterday, you missed some scoop from young Jack Pilgrim. Sources tell KSR that five-star forward Keion Brooks canceled his visit to Michigan State and is closing in on a decision, possibly in the next week. The timing of this news is particularly interesting because Brooks was in Rupp Saturday night on an unofficial visit. Will a perfect night in Rupp make Brooks a Cat? Check the site later today for the latest from Jack.
A new episode of “The Journey”
First we win, then we wait for a new episode of “The Journey,” KyWildcatsTV’s excellent behind-the-scenes YouTube series. We won’t get the Tennessee episode until tonight, but last night, UK dropped a sneak peek on Twitter:
@MrsTylerKSR Are you having as hard of a time waiting for the Tennessee cut of #TheJourney as we are? The good news is we've got an exclusive peek for you to hold you over until tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/rRO5TMBEKM
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 17, 2019
All-Star Game results
Team LeBron beat Team Giannis in the All-Star Game, which included two former Cats. Anthony Davis only played five minutes in the game due to a shoulder injury, but put up five points, including a three. Karl Towns was 5-7 from the floor for 11 points, 3 rebounds and an assist. This dunk was a nice highlight:
New OTT Podcast is here
Big wins call for emergency podcasts. Fake Barney took time out of his Sunday evening to chat with me about Kentucky’s thumping of the Vols. The episode is already available on The OTT Podcast feed on iTunes, and will drop on the KSR feed in just a bit. Speaking of podcasts, it’s Oscars Week, and the gang at 2 Guys, 1 Girl, Santa invited me on to pick winners. You can find that on iTunes or Soundcloud.
Happy birthday, Erin Calipari
The eldest Calipari daughter celebrates another trip around the world today, hopefully by slaying some more trolls on Twitter. Don’t worry; her dad remembered.
It’s @TheErinCalipari’s birthday! She has grown into a very talented, driven young woman who I’m so proud of. I can still remember her climbing the drawers in the kitchen, running and talking all day, then putting herself to bed. She would be sleeping in two minutes!!! pic.twitter.com/RqyxzICnMd
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) February 18, 2019
ANYWAYS…radio in an hour. Go seize that Monday morning.
By Maggie Davis on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
John Calipari is pretty good at coaching the No. 1 team in America. Turns out, he’s pretty good at beating the No. 1 team in America, too.
Kentucky helped themselves immensely by beating No. 1 Tennessee inside Rupp Arena Saturday night. But the players and the fans aren’t the only ones who have something to smile about. The victory also pushed John Calipari to a 5-4 record over top-ranked teams, making him the only coach with a winning record over teams ranked No. 1 in the nation (out of coaches who have faced the highest-rated team at least seven times).
Throughout the storied history of college basketball, 87 different coaches have had the pleasure of facing off against the No. 1 team at least seven times. Now, John Calipari is the only one above .500. He’s 2-2 during his time at Kentucky.
And haters will still try and say he can’t coach.
By Maggie Davis on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 10:00pm
Despite a second-half push by the Volunteers, Kentucky came away with the 86-69 upset over the country’s top team. The 17-point win was good for the Wildcats’ largest margin of victory over a No. 1 team in program history (because a 15-point win over No. 1 Florida back in 2003 was just too close). The Volunteers were relentless until the end, continuing to foul up until there was less than a minute left in the game, despite their double-digit deficit.
Remember, the NCAA’s new tool for March Madness selection and seeding partially relies on margin of victory, unlike the RPI system used in previous years. This season, losing by ten or more will cost a team more come Selection Sunday than losing by single digits. On the other side of the coin, a team is given more “props” for a double-digit win than they are for a game-winning buzzer beater. But, it all caps at a 10-point margin, supposedly to encourage good sportsmanship. A 34-point loss doesn’t hurt more than an 11-point loss, but it does hurt more than a one-point loss. So, yes, it’s plausible Tennessee continued to foul even when a win seemed impossible to try to break Kentucky’s lead down to single digits. But the Cats weren’t going to let that happen.
“Our vibe was just to keep our foot on their throat,” Keldon Johnson said. “Just keep executing, no matter what the score is. Don’t pay attention to the score; don’t pay attention to the time. Just go out there and execute and do what the coaches say to do.”
Of course, the Cats did let up for a few minutes, giving Tennessee the perfect opportunity to make a run. The Volunteers took advantage of Kentucky’s lapse and promptly went on a 13-0 scoring streak. But thanks to the Cats’ generous cushion from earlier in the game, Kentucky was able to withstand the attack.
“When they made their run, we just came back and locked in on defense,” Johnson said. “We knew offense would come, so we came in and locked in on defense and just grinded it out.”
Maintaining a lead is something the Cats have frequently struggled with this season. Letting their foot off the pedal was a large part of the reason why Kentucky lost to LSU just days ago. But they’ve learned from that experience and now better understand the importance of “doing what we were doing to get that lead,” according to Johnson.
And although they never had control during that horrible game at the start of the season, Kentucky’s performance against No. 1 Tennessee showcased just how far the Cats have come since their Nov. 6 matchup.
“After that, I didn’t think we’d be playing as well as we are now,” Tyler Herro said of the blowout against Duke. “We’re continuing to get better every day, coming to practice with the right mindset and pushing each other to be better.”
And what if they keep doing all of those things? Well, Herro’s feeling pretty confident.
“If we bring that same energy we brought tonight, when we share the ball like we did and lock in on defense like that, we can beat anybody in the country.”
By Brent Wainscott on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 8:00pm
Losses are never fun, and there’s always the cliche that this year’s basketball team has adopted, “you win, or you learn.” Most people hear that and kind of dismiss it, but this Kentucky team looks like they’ve learned from their loss to LSU. Even though we all hate losing, let’s be honest, Kentucky needed that loss.
After an incredible 10-game win streak, beating five ranked teams in that time, the Cats looked to be running out of gas. They looked complacent, and the defense wasn’t up to par. They fooled around and let teams come back from big leads multiple times, and it finally came back to bite them on Tuesday night. Granted, LSU won on a questionable call, but the optimistic view thinks it actually might have been a good thing.
Coach Cal agrees, Kentucky needed that loss.
“I hit them right after the game with LSU, it was a tough loss, but we needed it,” Said Cal. “Our team is changing we’re not the defensive team that we’ve been, we have individuals changing how they were playing when they were successful. We need to get it back; we need to go back to what we were, and sometimes you gotta get knocked in the head to know that. The loss to LSU, probably helped us win this game.”
Getting back focused and to the team, they were in the early part of the winning streak was a big point of emphasis.
“We knew what happened on Tuesday was unacceptable,” Said Keldon Johnson. “We came out this game locked in. Even though we had a couple of mental lapses, we stayed locked in the whole time.”
This team has done a complete 180 since the first game against Duke. That game took a big hit on their confidence, and as a team that is predicated on their confidence, seeing them respond more focused while keeping that confidence nearly four months removed from the Duke game is a good sign.
“I think it kind of brought us back to Earth, after our 10-game win streak,” said Tyler Herro. “We were high on each other, but getting back to focused and sticking to the game plan and executing…I think we’re confident always, but the loss to LSU put us back.”
Let’s not forget the 2014-15 season. Was it fun to watch them to pursue an undefeated season? Absolutely and of course we wanted to see them go 40-0, but there was a chunk of the fanbase that felt like that team needed to lose just one game to handle adversity to be ready for March. Just like the South Carolina loss in 2014, the overtime Arkansas loss in 2011, and the Vanderbilt loss in the 2012 SEC championship, the LSU loss feels like the loss that can propel this team into a deep March run.
Am I saying Kentucky will win every game here on out? Not one bit, they could easily lose in Knoxville, and a loss in the SEC tournament is plausible as well. But, I think we look back on the LSU loss and say that was the turning point that elevated this Kentucky team to another level.
Without the loss to LSU, Kentucky may have lost to Tennesee. I don’t know about you, but if I had to pick only one game to win between those two, I’m taking Tennesee every time.
By John Reecer on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 4:30pm
The College Basketball season is another week old, and the SEC consistently provides the sport with several talented players and teams. Here are the major storylines from the previous week of conference play. (AP Rankings accurate up until February 17, 2019.)
1. Wildcats Showcase Their Championship Talent
Kentucky faced off with Tennessee on Saturday night in what was the most anticipated conference matchup of the season. The result was the best possible outcome for the Wildcats as they blew out the No. 1 team in the nation in front of a packed Rupp Arena crowd.
Biggest UK margin of victory against a No. 1-ranked team in school history.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 17, 2019
Kentucky vs Tennessee Recap pic.twitter.com/Ao5ukGvYpR
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) February 17, 2019
This win could not have come at a better time considering that Kentucky just suffered a demoralizing and controversial defeat to LSU on Tuesday night. What started out as a disastrous week has now turned into one of the best of the season for the Wildcats.
Like how that embarrassing loss to Duke at the start of the season changed the morale of the program, this huge win over Tennessee might once again change the morale of Kentucky. However, this change might just give Coach John Calipari’s team a huge momentum boost heading into March.
Once again, P.J. Washington came up huge for UK as the sophomore and future pro outplayed Tennessee’s Grant Williams by scoring a game-high 23 points. Williams was formerly the leader for SEC player of the year, however, Washington has now thoroughly entered that conversation.
If Washington can finish out conference play by playing like he has in the Wildcats’ last eight contests, then he will take home the conference’s highest award at season’s end.
That boy @PJWashington up to something.
Seven 20-point games over his last eight.#DreamBIG
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 17, 2019
2. Just How Good is Tennessee?
On the flip side, we saw a new side of Tennessee which we previously have not seen this season. Before Saturday night, Tennessee was thought of as one of the most physical teams in the nation. However, their physicality was put to test against Kentucky, and the Volunteers massively failed.
While Jordan Bone, Williams, and Admiral Schofield all notched double figures, no one else on Tennessee’s team scored more than four points. Three good performances may be good enough against other teams, but that will not get the job done against teams like Kentucky.
Tennessee guard Admiral Schofield explains the No. 1 Volunteers’ 86-69 loss to No. 5 Kentucky: pic.twitter.com/8XvLxg9YpE
— Gary Graves (@GaryBGraves) February 17, 2019
I think its very fair to now wonder just how good these Volunteers really are. Tennessee played 16 straight games against teams that were all unranked. While it is impressive that they won them all, it’s obvious that playing so many average squads did not adequately prepare Tennessee for the Wildcats.
Do not let last night fool you. The Volunteers are still in the upper-echelon of college basketball this season. Remember, they still have marquee victories over No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 16 Louisville.
But where do they fit in the big picture? They are still almost guaranteed a top-2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they will still be in the Top 10 in the next rankings.
Personally, I see the Volunteers as a team that will struggle to make it out of the second weekend of the Big Dance unless they get a favorable bracket. A fourth player needs to step up outside of Tennessee’s big three in order for the Volunteers to make the Final Four.
3. LSU Starts Run for a No. 2 Seed
In what is undoubtedly the most underrated storyline of the week, LSU defeated both Kentucky and Georgia to move to 21-4 overall and 11-1 in SEC Play. The Tigers will surely shoot up the rankings and be on the cusp of the Top 10.
That means there is an outside chance that LSU might be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They still have to play Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida twice before the SEC Tournament which means they have plenty of chances to prove themselves worthy of such a seeding.
Because the top eight teams seemingly have such a tight hold on No. 1 and 2 seeds, the margin of error for the Tigers is very small. They will have to defeat Tennessee in the regular season, then beat either the Volunteers or Wildcats in the SEC Tournament.
While it seems unlikely, LSU still has a fighter’s chance due to their overall talent level which includes the likes of Naz Reid. Reid is one of the most unique players in the country, and one of the biggest reasons why the Tigers defeated Kentucky.
Naz Reid gives LSU the lead!!! pic.twitter.com/IcunqloxSE
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) February 13, 2019
4. Arkansas Will Not Be Going Dancing
Folks, it’s officially time to jump ship on the Razorbacks. After losing three straight contests to teams they could have have easily beaten, Arkansas is now 14-11 on the season and 5-7 in SEC Play.
Unless the Razorbacks win out (which they won’t), then Head Coach Mike Anderson’s squad will certainly not be dancing in March. This is a huge disappointment due to Arkansas having one of the best players in the SEC in Daniel Gafford.
Now, this is where things get very interesting for the program. In Anderson’s eight years at the school the Razorbacks have only made the tournament three times, and they have never made it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With morale at an all-time low, fans are starting to turn away from the program.
Arkansas fans avoiding the rest of the basketball season: pic.twitter.com/8l34QyIQZ6
— Andrew Hutchinson (@NWAHutch) February 17, 2019
Anderson’s time at Arkansas may be finished if this season gets much worse. A respectable run in the NIT may be enough to keep his job, but nothing is certain at this point. No matter what happens with Anderson’s future, the Razorbacks have been a massive disappointment.
5. ‘Bama and Florida Squarely on the Bubble
With just three weeks left in conference play, we have a pretty clear picture of which teams from the SEC will make the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee, Kentucky, and LSU are all locks while Ole Miss, Miss. State, and Auburn are all in the tournament for now. Unless any of those last three teams implode down the stretch, the SEC is virtually guaranteed to have six teams in the Tournament.
Missouri, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Vanderbilt have been out of NCAA Tournament contention for over a month, and after this week Arkansas has joined them. South Carolina is one game above .500 so they aren’t on the bubble as of now.
All that leaves are just two programs who will be the SEC’s bubble teams this season: Alabama and Florida. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Crimson Tide were in the Big Dance as a 10 seed, but that was before they were annihilated 71-53 by Florida on Saturday. Just three days ago the Gators were the first team out of the tournament in Lunardi’s projection.
NCAAM Bracketology – ESPN. Happy Friday. Holding my nose on Oklahoma and Indiana. ? https://t.co/uL3N0o4hLF
— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 15, 2019
There is a chance that Alabama is now on the outside looking in due to Florida taking their spot. The Crimson Tide are 15-10 overall and 6-6 in SEC play while the Gators are 14-11 and 6-6. Essentially, which ever team has the best wins on the season will make the tournament.
As it stands, Alabama has better wins even with Florida beating them yesterday. However, the Gators still have to play LSU twice and Kentucky one more time. It will be a race to a finish to see which of these two squads will be dancing in March.
By Maggie Davis on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 2:30pm
Everyone’s favorite Wildcat (Jonny David, obviously) is bringing more heat in the latest edition of “Jonny David’s All-Access.” David takes fans behind-the-scenes into the locker room following Kentucky’s win over Tennessee. Unlike the media members, David asks the hard-hitting questions, like who would you want on your team for a one-on-one fight or wrestling match?
The answers were mixed. PJ Washington is confident in Reid Travis’ abilities, while Keldon Johnson is going with Nick Richards. For Richards himself, though, the choice is easy: “PJ Washington… Just look at him.”
We are back at it!! pic.twitter.com/rNF8BypVD9
— Jonny David (@JonnyDavid) February 17, 2019
Even though the feature technically belongs to Jonny David, Johnson takes over to highlight some of his teammate’s accomplishments. Tyler Herro? Mr. double-double AND Mr. Steal Your Girl. And how does EJ Montgomery stay so calm after a dunk? “I do it on PJ everyday at practice.”
Good stuff, guys.
By Brent Wainscott on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 2:00pm
Folks, Keldon Johnson is BACK and in a big way.
After averaging 11.4 points in his last nine games, and shooting 39% since the Kansas game, Keldon Johnson was due for a big game. Did he ever.
Last night, Johnson went for 19 points and four assists. Kentucky saw that “dawg” in him that was talked about so much during the offseason, and for my money, the best moment in the game was his Tayshaun Prince-esque run in the first half when he scored 11 consecutive points.
The game was still in its “feeling-out” process and Kentucky had a 12-9 lead when Johnson decided to go unconscious. His first made bucket was a two with his foot just barely on he line, set up by an assist from Hagans. Then Keldon went bananas, making three of his next four shots, all behind the arc. It sent the BBN into a frenzy.
Johnson was on fire, and at that point, he just had to keep shooting.
“I was just lost in the game,” Johnson said. “I just happened to be hitting shots, and I just kept shooting. My teammates told me to keep shooting, so that’s what I did.”
After the game, Tyler Herro said Keldon’s burst was nothing new to the team. “We see that a lot from Keldon in practice,” said Herro. “He locks in mentally, he as locked in and that’s what he does.” If Keldon can lock in mentally like that in these six final regular season games into March…
It was definitely a special moment for Keldon Johnson, and it’s a stretch that should be remembered for some time amongst the BBN.
Following a few weeks of lackluster play, Kentucky got their point guard back against Tennessee. After a bit of a jittery start, Ashton Hagans settled in for a great game against the No. 1 Vols. He set the pace, limited Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone (who had a good game, but was especially limited in transition, where the Volunteers scored just two baskets) and was able to feed Kentucky’s big men in the post. By the end of the game, he recorded nine points, seven assists, two steals, two rebounds and just one turnover in 36 minutes.
“Ashton today played like he had been playing,” John Calipari said after the game. “For two games, he went downhill and it affected us last game. And in this game, he came back.”
Referencing two “downhill” games may even be a bit conservative. In fact, before the Tennessee matchup, Calipari called out Hagans’ performances over the past three games.
“Ashton, the last three games, has not played well. As a matter of fact, he’s not played well at all,” Calipari said Friday before the game. “So [Tennessee] is a game where we’re going to need him to get back where he was 10 days ago, 12 days ago; where everybody was talking about him being the best on-ball defender in the country. A difference-maker; a creator.”
Saturday night, he was just that – a difference maker, especially on the defensive end.
“We need him on the defensive end. He’s the best part of our defense – he starts it,” PJ Washington said of Hagans. “Without him, we’re not really good on the defensive end. For him to pick up the opposing guards like that is crazy.”
For him to play his best, Calipari had to light a fire under Hagans. He did so by showing the team a compilation of the North Carolina game, specifically nine clips of Ashton Hagans’ best work. The clips included the possession where Hagans was “diving, tipping, fell into the stands, the bench and then came down and stole the ball,” according to Calipari.
“And what I basically said is… We don’t have this guy anymore. I don’t know where this guy went, but if we ever got him back we would be really good,” Cal said. “That’s who you were, now you chose to change. We don’t know why, but you chose to be somebody different.”
Against UNC, Hagans finished with eight steals, four rebounds, three assists and one block, while hitting two baskets and going 3-4 from the free-throw line for seven points. North Carolina may have been his breakout game of the season, but he hit his stride during his three-game stretch against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Georgia, when he scored 18, 15 and 23 points, respectively. But after his homecoming trip to Athens, he started to slip. Against Tennessee, he was back to his mid-season self.
“We just know Ashton is such an important piece for our team,” Keldon Johnson said of his point guard after the win. “When he’s at the top of his game, we’re a very good team. We feed off his defense – when he’s disruptive, everybody is disruptive… He was playing like we know he can play, and he’s amazing.”
But playing to his potential didn’t come easy for the Wildcat. Calipari said Hagans was one of two players who were really cramping up during the game (the other was PJ Washington), a sign of going “harder than he’s gone all year.”
“That’s why you cramp up – you went harder now,” Calipari said. “Like Kenny Payne was saying, we probably need to get seven percent more conditioning to bump this up so that we can play in a bunch of games. When you have back-to-back like this on a Thursday/Saturday or a Friday/Sunday, and you have this kind of game and you’ve got to follow it up with another one. Whew, I’m not sure we have that right now.”
Calipari, always the optimist. Regardless, welcome back, Ashton Hagans. The BBN is happy to have you.
By Maggie Davis on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 12:30pm
Can’t get enough? Relive last night’s fun by listening to a few of the players’ reactions immediately following the game.
PJ Washington discussed shutting down the No. 1 team in the country, his “viciousness” against Grant Williams, the Rupp Arena atmosphere and if he’s the best player in the SEC.
Keldon Johnson talked about how physical the matchup was for both teams, his stretch of three-pointers and how the team fought back from Tennessee’s attempt at a run in the second half.
Tyler Herro discussed what the win does for the team going forward, the mindset for the rest of the season and his first missed free throw since December.
WATCH: Kentucky Players huddle around after Beating Tennessee to watch Hami in the Slam Dunk Contest
By Brent Wainscott on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 11:00am
Last night was one of the best days to be a Wildcat, maybe ever. From starting the morning off with College Gameday and having Mckinley Webb sink a half-court shot for 19 thousand dollars, to Kentucky baseball and Softball both winning in the afternoon, which led into one of the best Kentucky performances under Cal, and all of it was capped off by Hamidou Diallo winning the 2019 Slam Dunk Contest.
But, one of the coolest moments came directly after Kentucky’s victory over Tennesee. After dominating the number one team in the nation, what was the first thing the Cats did? They rushed back to the locker room to watch Hami win the 2019 Slam Dunk Contest.
— CoachCal.com (@CoachCalDotCom) February 17, 2019
What a cool moment that further shows that Kentucky basketball is a family and a brotherhood that lasts a lifetime.