Kentucky freshman guard Tyrese Maxey is no stranger to big games. He got his UK career started with a 26-point performance to open the season against then-No. 1 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden, and heading into Tuesday evening, he has followed it up with nine games of 15-plus points.
Despite the dominant scoring performances, though, UK head coach John Calipari believes Maxey has left plenty to be desired from a toughness standpoint.
Following his 25-point performance where he shot 10-17 from the field overall and 3-4 from three, Calipari said that for the first time in his freshman season, Maxey played with a “toughness to win.”
“The best thing that happened is for the first time this year, Tyrese Maxey played with a toughness to win, vs. just playing basketball,” Calipari said of his star guard. “Now you have to understand I’ve been all over this and all over him and not settling. That was a good sign.”
Scoring three of Kentucky’s first four baskets and seven more throughout the game, Maxey was an offensive force on all three levels from start to finish. Whether it was a crucial three with the team down or a tough take to the rim when the team needed points, the freshman guard fought through and helped lead the team to victory.
“He played through bumps today for the first time in his college career,” Calipari said of Maxey. “That means you get hit and you keep going, vs. you get hit and throw the one-handed fade. It may go. Really if it goes you look crazy and if it doesn’t we lose. But this one, playing through the bump, you make it and it’s an and-one. And you show toughness, and it feeds on the other team. They’re like, ‘Holy cow.’ But his instinct is to get hit and throw a fade. Not play through bumps. He’s learning.”
And it wasn’t just on offense that Maxey separated himself.
According to Calipari, the 6-foot-3 guard out of Garland, TX also told on himself on the defensive end of the floor, impressive with six deflections after halftime alone.
“Another thing he did, he had six deflections in the second half with 10 minutes to go,” Calipari said. “Where’s that guy been? He told on himself. You mean you can play that way? ‘Yeah, but it’s really hard. Can I just get more shots?’ Trying to get these guys to do what the hardest thing is has been the challenge this year.”
On the glass, Maxey also snagged four rebounds, an aggressiveness on that front Calipari hasn’t seen in “games.”
“Our guards rebounded,” he said. “I thought Tyrese, again, stuck his nose in there, which he hasn’t done in games. He’ll go in and act like he’s trying to get the ball but he’s not. He’s hoping someone else will grab it. Today he went after balls.”
Maxey finished the day with 25 points on a career-high 10 field goals to go with four rebounds, two assists, and tied a career best with two steals. He made a career-high 10 field goals. It was his third game of 25 points or more this season, with his other game highs being 26 vs. Michigan State and 27 vs. Louisville.
The Wildcats will now head back home to Lexington to take on Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon.