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Wildcats praise Johnny Juzang following breakout game vs. Vols

Could Juzang be the three-point stroker Kentucky has been waiting for?

State Farm Champions Classic - Michigan State Spartans v Kentucky Wildcats Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Based on what we saw during Saturday’s win over Tennessee on Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats may have found their next pure shooter.

Coming into the season, Johnny Juzang was expected to be the team’s volume three-point shooter and an above-average wing defender. Some even thought he could end up leading the team in scoring.

However, a slow start to the year at both ends of the floor rather limited Juzang’s time to get in his groove.

On Saturday, though, Kentucky’s foul trouble against Tennessee led to additional playing time and Juzang took advantage of those extra minutes by consistently knocking down shots in the team’s win over the Volunteers.

The freshman guard played a season-high 24 minutes and was as efficient as he could possibly be, knocking down all four of his shot attempts (three from behind the arc) for 11 points. He also made the extra effort on this offensive rebound and earned the put-back.

So, what led to the big breakout?

According to John Calipari, Juzang has simply worked hard and kept grinding to get to this point.

“He’s got a great attitude,” Calipari said of Juzang. “He takes responsibility for how he’s playing. You are what your stats say you are. ‘If I played more, I shoot morre” No. You are what your stats say you are. And he just kept fighting. I was so proud of him.

“I told you, Johnny is not afraid to shoot balls. 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.”

Tyrese Maxey was ecstatic to see his fellow teammate finally show the world what he’s made of.

“I’m proud of you, brother, I’m proud of you,” Maxey said after the game. “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.”

Consistent shooting is the most important contribution Juzang can offer the Wildcats down the stretch of this season, with Saturday afternoon’s action a prime example that he can meet those expectations. His performance in Knoxville of all places should be a significant confidence booster going forward.