Johnny Juzang scored the fourth most points for Kentucky this afternoon, but he was the story of the 77-64 win over Tennessee. The freshman more than doubled his previous career high, putting up 13 points off a perfect 4-4 from the floor, 3-3 from the outside, and 2-2 from the free throw line, all in 24 minutes.
“He’s got a great attitude,” John Calipari said afterwards. “He takes responsibility for how he’s playing. You are what your stats say you are. ‘If I played more, I shoot more…” No. You are what your stats say you are. And he just kept fighting. I was so proud of him.”
Tyrese Maxey found himself in Calipari’s doghouse for missing a free throw late in the first half that would have put the Cats up by ten. As a result, Juzang got extended minutes and responded.
“We just didn’t have the energy and effort out of Tyrese that you need to win a basketball game,” Calipari said. “You can’t just be playing. Johnny went in there and the biggest play for Johnny [was] the offensive rebound on a free throw. That’s a real skill. And just an effort. And energy. And that’s why we left him in.”
The rebound Calipari’s talking about happened with eight minutes left. Nick Richards missed a free throw that would have put Kentucky up by six, but Juzang grabbed the board and scored, pushing the lead to seven.
“The rebound on the free throw, I said, ‘Pull it out!’ and he made it. Great shot, Johnny!” Calipari joked. “He’s building my confidence in him. You guys are saying, where did this come from? I’m watching it and I haven’t seen it, kind of a little bit. You’ve got to own your performance if you want to change. You have to come every day and know there’s no easy way to do what I’m trying to do. ”
The secret to Juzang’s breakout performance? No fear.
“I told you, Johnny is not afraid to shoot balls,” Calipari said, bringing up Juzang’s failed three-point attempt late in Kentucky’s loss at South Carolina. “He is not afraid. Now he needs to get in tune with his teammates. Because he’s not afraid. Guys that want to — I’ve done this a long time. There’s a lot of cop out that goes on. ‘I’m afraid if I make a mistake or if I miss a shot, of being taken out.’ And then you go to him.”
“You can’t cop out. Demonstrated performance like today is going to help Johnny enormously. And the team, I can’t tell you how happy they were for both him and Keion [Brooks]. They were ecstatic.”
“I feel like any player has to believe they’re going to make shots and believe they’re falling,” Juzang said.
“He believes!” Maxey exclaimed.
Maxey redeemed himself late in the game, finishing with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, and couldn’t have been more complimentary of Juzang after the game.
“I’m proud of you, brother, I’m proud of you,” Maxey said. “Like Coach Cal said, one thing is, when Johnny shoots, he thinks it’s going in. Like I said earlier, he’s the first one in the gym, probably going to be in the gym tomorrow morning, maybe even in the gym tonight, knowing Johnny. I’m just proud of him. He stuck with it. He could have let go of the rope early in the year when he wasn’t making shots but he stuck with it, kept playing defense, kept fighting, and today, he came up big for us.”
When asked, Juzang didn’t credit his performance to anything specific other than his teammates putting him in position to score.
“No, not really, just a good night. My teammates were looking for me, the shots were falling. Nothing really got me going. I try to bring that energy every game, but my teammates were finding me and shots were falling, so it was a good night.”
Juzang admitted his freshman year hasn’t always been easy, but he kept the faith that hard work would reap rewards.
“You have a clear vision or goal in mind of what you want to do. You have to keep pushing. You’re not always going to feel great or motivated or positive; that’s just not realistic. You’re going to go through stretches where you’re down and not motivated. It might be a little bit of both. You’ve just got to keep going, no matter how you feel. You just keep going and have that goal in mind. You just keep pushing. I’m definitely not saying that it’s easy, but you keep going.”
And when you do, you get a moment like this.
“I’m proud of you, Johnny.” pic.twitter.com/YqQ0a4SavW
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) February 8, 2020