By LARRY VAUGHT
Two of the Southeastern Conference’s best point guards — LSU sophomore Tremont Waters and Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans — will be on display Tuesday night in Rupp Arena when their teams battle to see who takes sole possession of second place in the SEC behind Tennessee, which is 10-0.
“They’re two really good players, but different,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Tremont does an unbelievable job at stealing balls on defense and creating havoc that way, and then offensively he really sees the court and can score. So he’s terrific that way.
“Our guy is, you know – speed that game up, put pressure on the ball. I’m not sure how much he’ll guard Tremont. We might do some different stuff, but they may go head-to-head some.”
Hagans has been terrific most of the season but has struggled a bit more to score in recent games — which is no surprise to the UK coach.
“Teams are coming at him now. They’re figuring out who he is. I think I can remember John Wall walking into my office and saying, ‘I’m not having fun.’ ‘Yeah, no kidding. They’re guarding you with a broken line. They’re not guarding you. They’re running back into, under the basket, to make you shoot and it’s no fun now,’” Calipari said.
“They’re doing things to him. They’re playing pick-and-rolls different ways. They’re doing things to him to – leaving him some, putting him in spots where maybe he’s a little uncomfortable. That just comes with experience. He’ll be fine.”
So what is his advice to Hagans?
“Drive it some. Shoot it some. He’s so physical and so long, he can create havoc himself both on the defensive and offensive end. I’m happy with what he’s doing,” Calipari said.
Hagans even reminds Calipari some of former UK point guard Tyler Ulis, who was the SEC Player of the Year as well as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year his sophomore season.
“Controls the game the same way. He coaches on the floor. Yeah, he does a lot of that stuff,” Calipari said.
Freshman Immanuel Quickley has not played against Waters but he says he knows the point guard is the player who “makes them go” from what he’s already seen.
“He facilitates their offense, gets them going. From what I understand, he’s played really good all year long,” Quickley said.
Waters is coming off a SEC Player of the Week performance where the 5-11 sophomore averaged 22.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 3.5 rebounds per game in wins over Mississippi State and Auburn. LSU overcame a 10-point deficit to beat LSU in overtime and rallied from 16 down to beat Auburn. He had 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field to go with five assists and five steals at Mississippi State. Waters had his fourth double-double of the season with 19 points, 10 assists and five steals against Auburn.
In SEC play Waters is averaging 20 points, 6.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game.
Quickley thinks UK’s guards are ready for the challenge. “It’s not just me and Ashton. It’s everybody on defense, talking, communicating, help the helper, stuff like that,” Quickley said.
Freshman Tyler Herro says Hagans takes it “personally” when he plays against a highly regarded player like Waters.
“He’ll be able to go out there and compete tomorrow. Ashton’s one of the best point guards in the country. I think he’ll go out there and make it happen,” Herro said.