If Ashton Hagans hit a wall prior to the Tennessee game, he leapt over it against the Volunteers.
The Kentucky point guard had a tough three-game stretch leading into the showdown against the top-ranked team in the country. During that time he averaged 4.6 points and assists per game, committed nine turnovers and forced just three steals.
“He’s a freshman. He hit a little bit of a wall,” Calipari said Friday afternoon. “He’s not played well at all. This is a game where we’re going to need him to get back to where he was ten, twelve days ago.”
Kentucky got exactly what they needed Saturday. In 36 minutes of action he had seven assists, a pair of steals and only one turnover. What changed so quickly for Hagans?
“After practice one day, he (Calipari) came in, he showed us North Carolina tape, when I got a lot of steals and I was playing aggressive,” Hagans modestly described his eight-steal performance. “He was just showing the videos, then he would stop after every steal. Then, everybody turned around and started looking at me. And (Calipari) was like ‘who was that’ and they would say ‘that’s Ashton with the braces.‘”
Hagans did not get his braces back for the Tennessee game, but he did bring intense focus to the table.
“For him to have some success against him (Jordan Bone) was vital because we have been on him about being focused, being disciplined, being disruptive, and it’s hard,” said associate head coach Kenny Payne.
“He’s never worked as hard as he has worked here. He’s never had to focus as much as he is having to focus here, and he is a freshman. There are times when he pouts; we have to address it. There are times when he’s immature; we have to address it. But then there’s times when he is locked in, and that’s has been a big difference in our team. When he’s locked in, we are really good.”
Coach Cal forced Hagans to address his shortcomings and implored the rest of the team to push him over top of the wall. They happily obliged.
“It’s tough, I mean, it’s a long season,” said Reid Travis, “but, this group, everyone is excited about what we have on the horizon…I think that’s what really helps everybody is that we’re all in here trying to get better, working hard every day. So you can really get over that mental fatigue when everyone has so much excitement about what’s about to come for us in the next couple of games, next couple of months.”
If Hagans and the rest of the Wildcats avoid hitting another wall, the horizon could be filled with winning until April.
See everything Hagans and Travis said Monday afternoon here.