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Ashton Hagans gave Keldon Johnson a much-needed wake-up call

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Keldon was in a major slump, but that changed in a big way at Auburn.

UK Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcats narrowly escaped Auburn Saturday night with a 2-point victory over the Tigers. It was a game that Kentucky led for the most part, until the very end when Auburn hit a three-point shot with 29 seconds left to take the lead 80-79.

Then, we saw Tyler Herro hit two clutch free throws, a good stop on defense for the Cats, a made free throw from Immanuel Quickley, and a missed half-court shot at the buzzer from Auburn to give the Cats an 82-80 win.

It was a wild one, but one of the main headlines from the game is the way in which these young Cats conducted themselves and communicated with each other.

Keldon Johnson has been struggling mightily since conference play started, and it looked like those struggles were still affecting him when he completely muffed a pass from Ashton Hagans.

That is, until Ashton yelled at him and told him to “wake the f—k up!”

It worked in a big way. Johnson had his best offensive performance since the North Carolina game, scoring 20 points off of 7/11 shooting from the field.

There are many ways Keldon could’ve responded, but it really speaks to his character to see him respond in the way he did. He took it on the chin and did what he needed to do.

“He (Hagans) just told me, ‘you’ve got to wake up, man. It’s not acceptable. If we’re going to be the team we’re gonna be, you’ve got to wake up. We need you to play.’ I did it for my teammates. They had my back and I had theirs. I just went out there and played.”

It’s true. If Keldon doesn’t play like this going forward, you can forget about this team doing anything in March.

“We all know that we have each other’s back, regardless of if it’s now, beginning of the season, or later down the road. You’ve just got to accept it because if they’re telling you something, they’re not just doing it just because. They’re doing it because they want what’s best for you and what’s best for the team.”

It’s great to see these guys calling each other out in this way while at the same time showing mutual respect. This is a direct result of Calipari’s teachings, because it takes a lot of humility to accept criticism like that and grow from it.

It was a very tough road challenge, and it looked like the Cats had to sort through a few things, but to see them get a win is extremely encouraging for this team going forward.