Prior to Tuesday night’s win at Vanderbilt, Hagans had been in an unbearable slump. Turnovers, blatantly missed layups and ill-advised decisions all headlined his play. However, the sophomore guard persevered and brought his A-game in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
In 32 minutes, Hagans flirted with a triple-double by scoring 11 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out eight assists. He also recorded two steals and limited his turnovers to just one. While his generational defense is there every night, it was quite relaxing to witness efficiency as a floor general go through the roof.
Kentucky’s offense struggled to start the game, but finally got in a groove with much credit going to Hagans getting the ball to the right people, which led to the Wildcats outscoring the Dores 51-28 in the second half.
Part of the first-half struggles were due to Hagans missing time with foul trouble.
“I was just trying to go out there and be aggressive. I picked up two fouls in the first half and left my team out there, I felt,” said Hagans after the game. “We had a few mistakes in the first half that we came out and fixed in the second half. Nick helped us. Tyrese helped us. Quick helped us. Everybody came in and did what they could do.”
Apparently, Hagans played so hard that it led to cramping late in the game, but it wasn’t about to keep him out.
”Ashton, if you’re wondering why I called a full timeout with two minutes to go, he was cramping,” said head coach John Calipari after the game. “I said, ‘If I have to burn another one, I will, because I’m not taking you out.’ So he laughed and said, ‘I’ll be alright.’
If Kentucky is going to bring home their ninth championship banner, Hagans will need to be a more consistent version of this player.
Does he need to grab 10 rebounds per night and only turn it over once?
Of course not, he’s a college athlete who will have his share of ups and downs. It’s keeping those ups and downs to a minimum that will bring Kentucky success.
“The whole thing with him is being disciplined as you play so you’re not trying to do crazy stuff because you’re disciplined and you’re focused,” Calipari said of Hagans after the game. “He’s had a lot of turnovers the last five games. Well, prior to that he hadn’t had hardly any. So what’s the difference? You changed as a player? You’ve changed how you’re thinking. You’re doing crazy stuff instead of what’s easy. How do I stay focused and disciplined?
“But what he is physically, they know fighting screens — did you see him push Nick (Richards) out to the corner on that guy? He two-hand chucked him. Nick went flying because the guy was going to the corner and was going to be open. (Ashton) just pushed him. That’s the kind of stuff. No one gets mad. But I’m proud of him. Shooting the ball better, scoring the ball better, making better decisions. It’s a good time of the year for us to do that.”
With his ability to score double digits on any given night, as well as put the clamps on the opponent’s best scorer, Hagans’ focus should solely be on running an efficient offense. We saw that on Tuesday night and will hopefully see more of it down the stretch of this season.