By LARRY VAUGHT
Ashton Hagans doesn’t mind the spotlight, or embracing a big-time situation.
He blew kisses to the crowd when he returned to Georgia to play against the Bulldogs and helped UK get a road win. He threw L’s down in the final seconds of Kentucky’s win at Louisville.
He’s earned a reputation as one of the nation’s best defensive point guards has has 45 steals in 20 games, including a streak where he had three or more steals starting with the North Carolina game where he had a school-record eight.
Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew called Hagans the best defensive guard in the nation because of the amount of space he could defend.
However, he’s doing more than playing defense.
During UK’s seven-game win streak, he’s averaging 12.2 points per game after averaging just 5.0 points in the previous 13 games.
Even better for Kentucky, his playmaking has taken off. He had eight assists in Tuesday’s win at Vanderbilt, his third straight game with eight or more — something no UK player had done since Tyler Ulis three years ago. In the last three games he has 25 assists and has had at least four in the last eight games.
Hagans now has 85 assists compared to just 45 turnovers in 20 games.
Another plus — he’s hitting 76 percent (35 of 46) at the foul line and has made a 3-pointer in two straight games after having just two 3’s in UK’s first 18 games.
He’s become so efficient that his stat-stuffing eight assists, seven points, six rebounds, one steal and just one turnover in 30 minutes against Vanderbilt basically went unnoticed because of the way PJ Washington and Nick Richards played.
However, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes paid attention to Hagans early in the game and often after that.
“Would you be shocked if I said Ashton Hagans was a zone buster?” Dykes asked. “He breaks that zone down driving and creating shots. He’s not a shooter but he busts the zone with his passing. He’s really good at a lot of things for this team.”