Like virtually every freshman that’s set foot on the Kentucky campus during the John Calipari era, Ashton Hagans had plenty of highs and lows during his first season in Lexington.
Hagans arrived on the scene right before Christmas with his breakout seven-point, eight-steal (!), three-assist performance against North Carolina and struggled with seven turnovers in Kentucky’s upset loss to Auburn one game short of the Final Four. Those two games summed up the Ashton Hagans experience in an nutshell for the Big Blue Nation this past season.
However, Hagans became one of the rare returnees for Calipari for this upcoming season, making the Cats one of the early title favorites yet again with a strong class joining the fray. You’ll hear a lot of analysts, bloggers, reporters, etc. mention how important point guard play is, especially come tournament time, and the Cats getting Hagans back for at least one more year is a nice shot in the arm for a team that was already seen as one of the country’s best. (It also helps that he’s basically Freddy Krueger at the beginning of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on defense, too.)
You take the ups with the downs with players at this point in their careers and Hagans had some pretty fun ups during his freshman season. Here’s five of them to be exact.
5. Don’t hurt ‘em, Ash
Hagans scored just 12 points on 11 shots in Kentucky’s gritty 62-56 second-round victory over Wofford during the NCAA Tournament. (It’s the second round because I don’t care about the First Four being the first round and it’s stupid to call it that. I said what I said.)
But, his ankle-breaker move in the left corner on Terriers guard Storm Murphy (yes, that’s his actual legal name) was the talk of the contest outside of all-time great 3-point shooter Fletcher Magee not being able to hit water if he fell out of a boat against the Cats.
Hagans drew the foul attacking the rim after the move and somebody put this move for a minute-long loop on YouTube, so feel free to enjoy it.
If you want it to save in GIF form, we have that as well.
4. Welcome home, Ashton
Just like Malik Monk shunning his home state and signing with the Cats instead of playing at home at Arkansas, Ashton Hagans told Georgia thanks, but no thanks and landed in Lexington to play college basketball.
They booed him on every touch. They chanted “Traitor!” at him.
What did Hagans do to answer?
The Cartersville native stuck the knife in deeper to Bulldog fans on Jan. 15 when he scored a season-high 23 points with five rebounds and four helpers in a 69-49 rout of Georgia on the road in the midst of Kentucky’s 10-game winning streak from January to mid-February.
I think he made the right decision just like Monk did.
3. “Wake the f*** up!”
The quote speaks for itself.
Not three full minutes into Kentucky’s tightly-contested win over Auburn back four days after the Georgia victory, Hagans had already seen enough of the current version of Keldon Johnson.
Kentucky was plagued by slow starts to games all season long and in this game in front of a hostile crowd, Hagans had finally had enough. After committing a turnover, Hagans let Johnson hear about it.
Johnson answered the bell in a big way, matching Tyler Herro’s 20-point performance with 20 of his own on 7-of-11 shooting, while Hagans scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out six assists and logged three steals in the two-point win.
Those types of moments are what you need from a floor general sometimes.
2. L’s down
After tormenting North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic before the turn of the new year, Hagans continued his newfound momentum into the Bluegrass showdown on College Football Playoff Saturday against hated rival Louisville.
Hagans chipped in with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in the 71-58 win for the Cats, but it was how Hagans capped the win for Big Blue that brought one of the more memorable moments of the season for him and Big Blue Nation.
After swiping away one more inbounds pass late in the contest, Hagans not only dribbled out the rest of the game clock, he throw the “L’s” down in celebration, taunting the home crowd and sending every member of BBN who made the trip west home with the biggest smiles on your face.
The expectations for Kentucky are national title or bust every season, but it’s usually a good year for fans if they beat Louisville.
1. Welcome to the national spotlight, Mr. Hagans
Did you really expect any other moment/game to be at No. 1 for Hagans?
When you have a YouTube video that’s just you picking off eight steals in one game, it’s pretty obvious it’ll be high on your highlight list.
In the season-changing victory over UNC in Chicago, Hagans shot just 2-of-7 from the field, but racked up a game-high eight steals, leading to Roy Williams calling him “as dominant as anyone at times” during the 80-72 win over the Tar Heels.
That’s some high praise from Ol’ Roy, especially being that Reid Travis and PJ Washington combined for 31 points and 15 rebounds for the Cats.
It was Hagans’ breakout performance and was the catalyst for him beginning his push towards eventually winning the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in a game that the Cats desperately needed to win.