When Hamidou Diallo found himself an open lane in transition for a breakaway slam against Missouri on Saturday, the emotion we saw immediately afterward was one of the most underrated components of Kentucky’s blowout victory.
Diallo had failed to cross the double-digit mark in points in 11 of Kentucky’s 16 games in conference play, and his confidence was down the drain.
The Kentucky shooting guard drilled a three-pointer less than four minutes into the game to knock some of that rust off, but his dunk in transition was the turning point in getting some of his confidence back.
He couldn’t help but let out a big ‘ole grin, almost in a “Hami is back” type of way.
You can see a closer look at the smile in this video:
From there, Diallo hit two more threes for a total of 11 points, and also managed to secure two rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block, and no turnovers. He didn’t dominate the stat sheet, but after weeks of trying to break out of his slump, it finally looked like the game was coming easier to him and he was having fun again.
“The team gave him a standing ovation when he came to the locker room,” John Calipari said on his radio show tonight.
And it was well-deserved.
Diallo played 16 minutes or less in four of Kentucky’s last five games, including a career-low ten minutes last Tuesday night against Arkansas. With constant missed shots and defensive struggles, he became virtually unplayable, and fans begged Calipari to keep him on the bench.
On Saturday, he slowed down and simplified the game, and it helped Kentucky play arguably their best game of the season.
“He had to worry about making easier plays and defending better,” said Calipari. “He didn’t make any excuses, he went in and went to work. I told him “If you keep trying to make Hollywood plays, showtime plays, you’re going to stay right where you are. If you stop, and make this game simpler, and just do simple stuff for a while till you build your confidence back, you will be fine.”‘
According to the Kentucky head coach, Diallo “hit rock bottom,” but he’s proud of how well he has managed to bounce back.
“He’s working at it, making easy plays, defending better than he’s ever defended. He has a spirit about him now. He looked defeated before. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you (climb back up.) I’m proud of him,” said Calipari.
But it isn’t just Diallo making strides to help the Cats right the ship. According to Calipari, it has been a collective effort from several different players to achieve one common goal.
“Individual players must improve for the team to improve. If your individual players aren’t getting better, there’s no way your team can get better. Shai is getting better, Quade’s getting better, Hami is getting better, Kevin Knox is getting better, PJ is getting better, and Jarred is getting better,” said Coach Cal.
While several key players are on an upswing, both Nick Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones aren’t necessarily following the same positive trend. But according to Calipari, like he said with Diallo last week, you can’t give up on them because they’re going to come through right when you need them most.
“You can’t give up on these kids,” he said. “There is going to be a game where (Richards and Killeya-Jones) will step up and help us win a game.”
While most fans felt the sky was falling during Kentucky’s recent rough patch, Coach Cal remained calm and collected because he could see the team’s overall improvement. Now, his Wildcats are looking right on schedule with some of his past UK teams.
“The reason I wasn’t rattled (during the four-game losing streak) was because I could see improvement,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re over the hump. What I do know is that we’re getting better and I like what I’m seeing.”