By LARRY VAUGHT
Against LSU on Tuesday night Kentucky freshman Ashton Hagans went against LSU’s Tremont Waters in a matchup of premier point guards.
Hagans didn’t fare well. He got two quick fouls and played only 21 minutes — his lowest total since 16 games ago in UK’s win over Monmouth on Nov. 28.
It was part of a declining trend for Hagans who is only 7-for-18 from the field in the last four games. He does have 18 assists — nine came in one game — but also has 12 turnovers. His steals have also decreased as only once in the last five games has he reached three steals — a number that was routine for him during a nine-game stretch earlier this season.
“Ashton the last three games has not played well. Matter of fact he’s not played well at all,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday.
Against No. 1 Tennessee on Saturday night, Calipari knows that has to change.
“This is a game where we’re going to need him to get back to where he was 10 days ago, 12 days ago when everybody was talking about him as the best on-ball defender in the country, a difference maker, a creator, he pushes,” Calipari said.
“That’s all gone away, so we need that back. He knows it. He’s a freshman. He hit a little bit of a wall. ”
Now he has to face Tennessee point guard Jared Bone, perhaps the most under appreciated player in the SEC and a key reason Tennessee has won 19 straight games and is unbeaten in SEC play.
“Bone is playing fast. I mean, he pushes that ball. He either throws it ahead or drives for a layup. They’re playing good. Rick’s (Barnes) doing a great job with this team, really,” Calipari said.
Calipari says it is not unusual for a freshman to “hit a wall” like Hagans has.
“You look at it and just say, you understand this is all happened in 10 days, 12 days. So, if you want it back, what were you doing 10 and 12 days ago that you’re not doing now? Just change it,” Calipari said.
“I just think you get tired. You lose focus. You get numb. Every game we play is the same. It’s someone’s Super Bowl, it’s an out-of-this world game, stadiums filled, other teams are playing out of their minds and you kind of get numb to it, and all of the sudden you’re not playing with the energy, the focus that you need to play with.
“Like I said, he’s had a heck of a year. He’s just had a bad week and a half.”