Sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans scored a game-high 23 points and added nine assists as Kentucky took care of Georgia 89-79 on Tuesday night in SEC action in Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.
Hagans, a Georgia native, once again killed his home state team with tenacious defense and dribble penetration that led to multiple scoring opportunities for a team that continues to improve offensively. In three career games against Georgia, Hagans has averaged 19.7 points, six assists and four steals.
Nick Richards also had another great effort, scoring 20 points and adding eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Immanuel Quickley and EJ Montgomery added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Kentucky jumped out of the gate early with a 10-2 run and led by as many as ten points in the first half. However, Georgia fought back to take it’s first lead of the game on a lay-up at the 5:33 mark for a 29-28 advantage. A Richards dunk, Quickley three-pointer and a Keion Brooks lay-up pushed the UK lead back to 35-29 with 4:14 left in the half as the Cats took a six points lead into halftime (41-35).
Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, projected by many as the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft in June, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
Edwards, a 6-foot-5 freshman, would finally heat up in the second half, hitting a jumper to cut the UK lead to 57-54 before Kentucky would go on a 12-2 run that included a Brooks stick back, back-to-back buckets from Johnny Juzang, a Quickly jumper and run out dunk by Brooks to give the Cats a 69-56 with 8:50 remaining.
With Georgia struggling from the free throw line, Kentucky extended the lead to 81-67 on a Richards bucket inside and two free throws from Tyrese Maxey pushed the lead to 16 points (83-67) with 2:37 remaining.
Kentucky, now 14-4 and 5-1 in the SEC, returns to action on Saturday when the Cats travel to Lubbock to take on the No. 18-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders.
After the game, UK coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to discuss Kentucky’s fifth conference victory, courtesy of UK Athletics.
JOHN CALIPARI: Until the last four or five minutes you know that I was letting it unfold, it was player-driven today. And I said, How did you like the player-driven? They all, Yeah, yeah, you know. And I said, Okay, there’s two things that happened. Ashton (Hagans) shot a shot early in the shot clock with five minutes to go and then we started breaking down. And then I had to say, We’re not losing this game, because — then I said, I would like to go full games without having to be active involved in it. This team became empowered during that last game. And now I think they’re feeling that it’s about each other. 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. I thought Keion (Brooks Jr.) did fine. Our guards are good.
Q. Is this team becoming empowered earlier than most of your teams and if so, why or why not?
JOHN CALIPARI: I can’t remember year to year, but usually it’s February and — mid-February when I’m like, Good, we got this. But it is way easier to play and it is way easier to coach, but they got to be responsible to each other, they got to do their role, they can’t break things off and do what they choose and if they do, they got to be on each other. You’re empowered. You clean that up yourself. If someone’s not happy with playing time, I’m telling them to go to Ashton (Hagans) and Immanuel (Quickley), talk to them. Their team. I thought Nick was good again today. I thought Ashton (Hagans) was good. Tyrese (Maxey) was one of those games. He gets it about every third game. It was just okay. I mean, I think he’s one of the best players on the court who just played okay. And that’s why Johnny played and that’s why Keion (Brooks Jr.) played some out there. But I love the fact that Keion (Brooks Jr.) has stepped in now and been that third big. And it’s what I told them. I said, Look, if someone’s playing well, they’re staying in and you have to accept it. When you get your chance, go in there and perform.
Q. You have a lot of experience with fabulous freshmen. What’s your view of Anthony Edwards and his troubles of kind of getting it going in two halves or playing consistently throughout?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s hard for young guys, especially when you’re being, everybody’s paying special attention to him. So now all of a sudden, every pick and roll they hold it hot longer, every drive they’re leaving other men to go get him, so it’s like he’s playing a box and one and he still gets baskets. It tells you how good he it. Tom’s (Crean) done a great job. They’re going to win games. I just told their team as we walked off, Go win games. You’re as good as anybody we played. Go win games. (Rayshaun) Hammonds, I mean, come on. They’re close. They beat Tennessee by 20. They got us twice and at Auburn, that’s — what? Their start was ridiculous. Now, let’s see where they go. Tom’s (Crean) terrific and I think they will be fine, and I want them to, at this point I want them to beat everybody.
Q. Can you just see Johnny (Juzang) and Keion (Brooks Jr.) getting more confident day by day in practice now?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Last game, because of foul trouble, Keion (Brooks Jr.) got those extended minutes and he felt good. But he started the game, when I put him in today, like, got pushed around. You can’t be that guy. You know you’re getting your opportunity, now you got to hit first. You can’t let the guy hit you and get pushed around. You hit first and create space. But again, he’s so good with the ball around the rim, getting it in. He’s got great hands. I’m just proud of him. And I’m telling you, every one of these kids is on a different timetable and different path. You can’t compare yourself to another guy, including in the country. I mean, it took Ashton (Hagans) and Immanuel (Quickley) two years. What, that’s bad? I say it again, Ashton (Hagans) is as good a point guard — my opinion the best point guard in the country and the reason is how he defends. He can go shut out any of the three guys, whoever he needs to guard, pick-and-roll defense, dribble handoffs, all the stuff, being able to keep people in front, getting his hands on balls. And he, at the end of the day he was mad Johnny (Juzang) 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.
Q. A lot of other coaches ask their players to play to their strengths in order to develop confidence. You do just the opposite. You’ve asked your team, What is hardest for you, and then just go do it. How have they responded to that and are there one or two people you want to single out who have done well with that?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, E.J. (Montgomery), like, I’m on E.J. (Montgomery) because, what do y’all think the number one thing with Nick (Richards) that got him over the hump? Because I just want to ask you the question because I know none of you know basketball, so I’m going to ask you that. What do you think was the reason he got over the hump?
Q. He got in shape. Conditioning.
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s in shape. He put himself in great shape, so now he doesn’t surrender. It makes you a coward. You just surrender. He is in great shape. You know who is now doing extra conditioning? E.J. (Montgomery). Is it showing? Yes. It’s not going to happen overnight, though. Took Nick (Richards) three years. Who is the other guy in supreme condition? Immanuel (Quickley). So, look at him. So now — but why don’t you do that? Well, that’s really hard. Can I just get more shots? Can you just not say anything and leave me in the game? How about you do the hardest thing, which is get in great condition, and then see where it takes you. Then all of a sudden you do stuff that you didn’t even know you can do, which builds your confidence and yourself esteem. It’s not what I say. Now, I like the fact for most of this game I really didn’t say a whole lot. Like, I didn’t, you know, DeWayne (Peevy) says, We’re going to cut your pay if you don’t start doing more. But the last four, five minutes I got — and I said, do you like that guy? No. Great. Then finish games. It’s the same thing. We get up 15 and all of a sudden, they got a chance. Why? Tough shots, breakdowns on defense, trying to make a hero’s play. All you got to do is pull the ball out. Why would you try to make that throw over the top that they steal when they come back and score? Why would you do that? Because I’m a freshman and I don’t realize. That’s where we got to get through. But I say it again, this is a heck of a win. Hard game, because you beat them down there. They, these guys don’t realize, with three minutes to go it was anybody’s ball game down there, and we stretched this out. I had to call timeouts now. I had to call two timeouts, which you know I normally don’t do, to stop the game and say, Guys, first half they’re up one, second half the way we started, come on.
Q. You had Immanuel (Quickley) guard (Anthony) Edwards 90 feet, limited him to one field goal, I believe, in the first half and just what are your thoughts on his ability to defend and also be that two-way scorer tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the reason I did it is down there he scored on Tyrese (Maxey) a couple times and Tyrese (Maxey) laughed with him like they were in an AAU game. Don’t even go near him. Immanuel (Quickley), you got him. And if you don’t have him, then Ashton (Hagans) has him. And that was why, because this ain’t for funsies. He’s trying to kill you, you’re trying to kill him. And Immanuel did the same — Immanuel’s (Quickley) become that other defender for us. 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. One of the best three-point shooters in the country. Did anybody talk about we went 1-9 from the three and scored 89? Who was that guy that was saying, They need to shoot more threes and come into modern era and shoot 30 threes? We could have been 1-27 shooting three, I don’t know, but that’s why I don’t, I don’t listen. I just don’t.
Q. The zone, how do you feel like your team played?
JOHN CALIPARI: Better. What we did the first half with Nick (Richards) down low, it just jammed it up, so we just brought him up high and it gave us lanes for layups. Second thing is we need to post the ball to Nick (Richards) and we did, and he didn’t make them, and he’s got to. And we got to do it more. Practice it more. We went zone. I had Nate (Sestina) in instead of Keion (Brooks Jr.). I wish I would have done it different, but I left, we gave them — and then my man got a three and you know me, Guys, that’s it, no more zone, so don’t even tell me about the zone. I mean, the guy was open, their best shooter, you’re in a zone, one guy’s not shooting, him. We gave him the shot. Well, I would rather be man-to-man and have Immanuel (Quickley) hanging on him or Ashton (Hagans).
Q. You said Tyrese (Maxey) has just an okay game every three games or so. How do you sort of push him to do better other than just time?
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s just got to understand that this is, we only have so many games. We got — how many games do we got left? 13? So, we got 13 games left. You can’t let a game pass. All day you’re preparing to play great. And you’re not just playing, you’re trying to play great. I’m not just exchanging baskets. I’m competing. I’m coming up with balls. First half our guards didn’t rebound. They outrebounded us in the first half. Second half we outrebound them by eight or nine, but our guards rebounded. But it’s something that we shouldn’t have to talk about. But he’s fine. I mean, look, he’s one of the best players in the country. All I’m saying is play that way. That’s who you are, you play that way. No one holding you back, we’re putting you in position to score baskets, we’re putting you in a position to guard people, block shots, rebound, go do it.
#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Fr., F
On moments where the “lights came on”...
“I just kept pushing through. I had some rough ones, just trying to get back together, just kept pushing through with my teammates. I have faith in them and the coaching staff believing in me.”
On how much faith he has in Ashton especially against Georgia …
“I have faith in Ashton no matter who we’re playing. He’s going to play hard, he’s our leader, he’s going to carry us, and play hard. He knows how to play and has a great will to win.”
On playing against a 2-3 zone …
“Me personally, I do like playing (against) a 2-3 zone because I know I can get in the middle and make some shots, and create some open shots for my teammates. I got caught in the middle once, and didn’t really look to attack and they got a steal off me, but besides that I feel good playing against a 2-3 zone.”
On practicing against the 2-3 zone …
“We know teams are going to play a zone because it’s hard to matchup with our size and our athleticism and our speed. They try to go to zone to slow us down, so we got a lot of stuff we go to give us some movement.”
#0, Ashton Hagans, So., G
On how nice it was playing his home-state team...
“You know, it’s always good to go against my home state team. I was committed there, at one time, then came here. But, it’s good to just have my family here to see me, watch me play, go against some of my homeboys from back at the crib. It was just a good win.”
On his reaction to seeing Ja Morant shout him out on Twitter...
“Actually, me and Ja talk a few times here and there, but you know I always try to get some advice from him. He always hits me back real quick, so I just thank him. He inspires me to go harder, he inspires a lot of people actually. Knowing somebody like Ja, to just pick some stuff from his game and just add it to mine, you know, it’s a good thing to have him on my side.”
On how he was chirping at the UGA bench...
“Oh yeah, always. They were talking to me out there, so you know I just had to talk. It wasn’t too much, nothing to the heart. We were just out there, you know, having fun.”
#23, EJ Montgomery, So., F
On if that moment felt like an important factor to you during the game …
“Yes, that’s what coach (Calipari) wants from his big guys to do, is just to make the shot on different ends and just block shots.”
On the importance of getting in shape and how it has transformed his game …
“Every chance I can, KP (Kenny Payne) especially with his conditioning and just trying to get me in better shape, he wants me to just play my hardest the whole game.”
On what his confidence is right now after back to back solid performances …
“It’s just getting better, just trying to go out there and help our team win.”
On how he feels now versus last year in terms of physicality …
“I feel a lot better, that was my main thing over the summer was to get stronger and to come back and be an impact in the game.”