The breakout moment we’ve all been waiting for with Ashton Hagans finally came during Kentucky’s 92-82 victory on Sunday night.
And you wouldn’t know it just by looking at the box score.
In his first three games as a Wildcat, Hagans finished with a total of four points on 2-6 shooting, to go with only one steal, zero blocks, and seven total fouls. We knew the offensive struggles were likely, but he wasn’t putting on the defensive clinic fans expected going into the year.
Against VMI, however, we finally saw a glimpse of just how special Hagans can become by the end of the season. It was the first time the five-star freshman truly looked comfortable out on the floor.
“Coming out, my mindset is that I’m always going to bring it on the defensive side of the court,” Hagans said after the game. “But I’ve just been practicing getting more comfortable, doing what I did back in high school by attacking the basket, shooting the ball way more than I’m doing now.”
Hagans finished with five points on 2-3 shooting, one rebound, four assists, two blocks, two steals, zero turnovers, and just one foul in 21 minutes. He found an easy bucket at the rim and had nice touch on a made mid-range jumper, with another just rimming out. On defense, he was a pest, taking chances and converting. Nothing came easy for a Portland Pilot with the Wildcat point guard on the ball.
“That’s one of the big things I’m working on right now,” Hagans said. “Cal said he’s letting me play freelance on the defensive side of the ball. I’ve just got to pick out the ones I can go after, trap when when we need to trap, leave my man when I need to go help on somebody else’s man if they got beat. Things like that, I’m getting better at.”
He understands it’s a process, but he’s excited to see the success that comes with the patience.
“I’m getting with my coaches when we’re not practicing, getting in the gym, watching film, it’s just going to take time as the season goes on.”
Even with overall defensive struggles as a team, especially with a hot shooting night from VMI’s Bubba Parham, Hagans said the Cats are taking steps forward on that end of the floor.
“We’re playing hard on the offensive side of the ball, obviously,” he said. “But I still think we created some turnovers on the defensive side, there was just some tough shots and (Parham) was hitting. We’ll get better at it, Cal will go over it in film and see what happened.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari agrees. It might not have looked pretty at first glance, but the Wildcats took a step forward.
“I thought we defended better, they missed some shots, we got some break outs. I thought we had a steal, a run through steal, we did some stuff,” he said.
Calipari was particularly impressed with how well they played against a zone for the first time this season.
“I was really impressed that we played as well as we did against the zone,” he said. “Because you understand it’s, again, we haven’t spent much time on it based on we’re trying to get to where we’re comfortable how we’re playing against man-to-man.”