I know we’re all a little distracted by the Kansas/Kansas State fight, but Kentucky won a basketball game tonight. Anthony Edwards tried to make it interesting in the second half, but the Cats beat the Georgia Bulldogs 89-79 to move to 14-4 on the season, 5-1 in SEC play, only one game behind LSU.
Let’s go over it all, starting with the man to whom this game means so much, Ashton Hagans.
Ashton Hagans really likes beating Georgia
Hagans, a one-time Georgia commit, is now 3-0 vs. his home state school, coming up just shy of a double-double with 23 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 turnovers, and a steal in 35 minutes. His streak of games with five or more assists now stands at 15, putting Tyler Ulis’ streak of 24 in the 2015-16 season into sight; in fact, Hagans is well ahead of Ulis’ pace. Through 18 games in 2015-16, Ulis had 108 assists. Through 18 games this season, Hagans has 131. I love Ashton, but did any of us see that coming?
All of those crazy numbers aside, let’s not forget that just a few games ago, both John Calipari and Kenny Payne both expressed concern that all the praise and accolades would go to Hagans’ head. I’ll even admit that when Hagans mimicked Anthony Edwards’ “little man” gesture in the second half, I got a little concerned. Thankfully, he backed it up.
(Video by @versaceboyent2)
It’s obvious that Hagans takes this game personally. He had one of his first breakout performances last year in Athens and played on a sprained ankle in the game two weeks ago. In his three games vs. Georgia, Hagans is averaging 19.7 points, 6.0 assists, 4.0 steals, and 4.0 rebounds. That’s good, even if Calipari seemed a little frustrated by how badly Hagans wanted that assist to make it a double-double.
“Ashton is as good a point guard — my opinion the best point guard in the country and the reason is how he defends,” Cal said. “And he, at the end of the day he was mad Johnny didn’t shoot it because he wanted another assist. That’s why I grabbed him. I know why did you that and got mad. You wanted another assist, you’re going to lead our, the school in assists in our history, so stop it. Just play basketball.”
Keion Brooks and Johnny Juzang made big steps, not just baby ones
If not for Ashton Hagans’ performance, I would have started this recap with Keion Brooks and Johnny Juzang. After promising outings vs. South Carolina and Arkansas, the freshmen played well again, extending their baby steps of progress to man-sized strides. Brooks finished with 8 points off 4-7 from the floor and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes. His efficiency (+/-) was +9, the second best on the team behind Immanuel Quickley (+19). With 8:51 left, Quickley dished it to Brooks on a fast break and he slammed it home, pushing the lead to 13 and prompting Tom Crean to call a timeout. On cue, the lights in Rupp went down, the music blared and fans jumped to their feet, making for a very cool moment.
Juzang finished with six points (3-5 FG, 0-2 3PT), three rebounds, and an assist in 18 minutes, backing up his strong play in the last two games. He checked in at the 13:21 mark of the first half and helped Kentucky extend its lead to 18-8 at the 11:00 mark and played significant minutes in the second half, a huge show of faith from Calipari.
“How about Johnny Juzang today? I mean, terrific. He just has a nose for the ball. The kid makes the plays, he makes baskets, he did good.”
Nick Richards did the new Nick Richards thing
How much does it say about Nick Richards that I’ve gotten halfway through my recap and am only now just mentioning his 20-point, 8-rebound, 3-block performance? I actually think that’s a compliment to him because that kind of production is now expected. Like he did in the game in Athens, Richards steadied Kentucky on offense, providing easy buckets inside and being absolutely clutch from the free-throw line. Richards was a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe, and now that he’s playing at this level, we’re going to see how important that free-throw shooting is come March.
Similarly, shoutout to Immanuel Quickley, who had a “quiet” 12 points — including Kentucky’s lone three pointer — 4 rebounds, and 2 assists before fouling out after 36 minutes. Quickley’s shooting may have cooled off a bit, but as mentioned, he had the highest +/- of the game with +19 and guarded Anthony Edwards for most of the game when Tyrese Maxey didn’t stand up to the task.
“Immanuel’s become that other defender for us,” Calipari said afterwards. “If you remember a year ago it was hard to keep him in games because he was getting beat on the dribble so much. Now I’m putting him on the best player.”
EJ Montgomery scored in double figures for the first time in over a month
Kentucky’s other big man deserves some praise. Montgomery had 10 points (4-6 FG), 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal in 19 minutes, the most he’s scored in a game since he had 25 points vs. Fairleigh Dickinson back on Dec. 7. Calipari sounded like a proud papa in the postgame press conference when talking about how much extra work EJ’s doing in practice.
“He is in great shape. You know who is now doing extra conditioning? E.J. Is it showing? Yes. It’s not going to happen overnight, though. Took Nick three years.”
Kentucky scored 89 points on an off night from Tyrese Maxey
Tyrese Maxey was one of the stars of Kentucky’s win at Georgia two weeks ago, finishing with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists in a performance many said eclipsed Anthony Edwards’. Tonight, he was much quieter, putting up 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 turnovers in 31 minutes.
That’s not great for Tyrese, obviously, but how much does it say about this team that they were able to score 89 points — a high in SEC play so far — mostly without him? In what is becoming a trend, four Cats scored in double figures. You love to see that kind of balance.
Anthony Edwards didn’t score in the first half
The most eye-popping stat of the night may be that Anthony Edwards, projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, didn’t score until two minutes into the second half. Edwards finished with 16 points, proving that he’s still capable of going off at any given minute. Georgia’s a tough team, and I have a feeling Edwards is going to have a March moment. I just hope it’s not against the Cats.
Random Quote of the Night
Karl Ravech, Jimmy Dykes, and Marty Smith were on the call for ESPN tonight, and at one point in the second half, Dykes included this gem in a rant about consistency.
“Chick-Fil-A, Lululemon boxers, and water. Those are the only things I can count on in life.”
I feel like I know a lot more about Jimmy Dykes now.
Random Fan of the Night
Did anyone spot this Indiana fan behind the Georgia bench?
I support this woman simply for the exquisite execution of pettiness: pic.twitter.com/sCqboQnUkm
— Annice McEwan (@AnniceMcEwan) January 22, 2020
Someone is either very fond of, or very bitter about the Tom Crean Era in Bloomington.
Finish your night with Dr. Mike’s fine photos: