Going into Kentucky’s Tuesday evening matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs, the Wildcats didn’t know if they’d have starting point guard Ashton Hagans available following the left ankle injury he suffered on Saturday.
After UK assistant coach Joel Justus updated the sophomore guard’s status as “day-to-day,” Hagans ended up going through pregame warmups at full speed before ultimately starting the game. He looked uncomfortable at times and even went back to the locker room at the 14:05 mark to change into high-top basketball shoes, but wound up playing 36 minutes of a potential 40 in the 78-69 victory.
At the end of the day, Hagans – a Cartersville, GA native, was simply not going to miss out on the opportunity to play in his homecoming game.
“I’m sure he was going to be fine no matter what,” Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley said of Hagans’ injury and his status for Tuesday evening. “If he would’ve fallen off a bridge, he was still playing in this game. It didn’t matter what happened to him. Being back home, you always want to show out for your home [crowd].”
He might have tried to show out in front of his home crowd a little bit too much from the jump, finishing the first half with three makes on ten attempts.
And yes, John Calipari noticed.
“The first half, Ashton had 10 shots. And they were mostly jump shots, Calipari said. “Like, what are you doing? I said, “What are you trying to do? Get 25 shots coming home? You average 11 shots a game. You have ten in the first half.”
Quickley agrees with Calipari that Hagans was not shy in letting it fly, though he admitted he would probably do the same thing if Kentucky ever played his hometown school, Maryland.
And once he settled in a bit shooting the ball, he continued to make a massive impact on the defensive end of the floor.
“He was getting them things up,” Quickley said. “But if I was playing against Maryland, I would probably do the same thing. I’d probably shoot every time I touched it too. Ashton, he did great, especially on defense in the second half. He really started to lock up, and he did everything we needed him to do to help this team win.”
Outside of the poor shooting start, Calipari thought Hagans was “terrific” as a whole and gaining confidence as the leader of the team by the day.
“[He was] terrific. I think he just didn’t want to practice for two days,” Calipari said with a laugh. “I think that his floor game, he is so confident and comfortable in his own skin. He and I are laughing at halftime, he’s sitting in front of me, I’m talking to him. He’s laughing, I’m laughing. That’s just how comfortable he is.”
Hagans’ success on defense is no shock to Quickley. After winning co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors last year, nothing about Hagans’ game and what he brings to the table as a defender surprises him anymore.
“That’s what he does, that’s what we need him to do,” Quickley said. “He’s a big time player offensively and defensively, but especially defensively. We already know he’s an SEC Defensive Player of the Year, so for him to come out and do what he does, it’s nothing special, nothing we haven’ seen it before.”
Calipari described his sophomore point guard’s impact on both ends of the floor even better: Hagans – who left Stegeman Coliseum wearing a boot on his left leg following Kentucky’s victory – is “a tough hombre.”
“He knows this is his team to run,” Calipari said of Hagans. “He knows I’m giving him space because he’s making great decisions. And I’ll you another reason I give him space: He is a tough hombre. This guy is physically strong and tough, and he uses it [to his advantage]. He’s making good decisions.”