By LARRY VAUGHT
Before Sunday’s game against Auburn, Kentucy coach John Calipari talked about the open shots that freshman point guard Ashton Hagans was going to get in the NCAA Midwest Region final and how he had to shoot with confidence — and that the coach knew he could make shots.
Former UK All-American Mike Pratt talked on the UK Radio Network pregame show about how Calipari spent a lot of time with Hagans at the shootaround “trying to build him up” for the game.
The result? Hagans had seven turnovers, went 1-for-4 from 3-point range and couldn’t start to help contain Auburn guards Bryce Brown or Jared Harper, who combined for 50 points in the 77-71 overtime win that sent Auburn to its first Final Four.
After the game Calipari explained why he played Hagans 38 minutes — second most on the team — despite his ineffectiveness on both ends of the court/
“Well, you go through a whole season and some of the stuff you have to understand is bigger than one game. I know everybody will go nuts and say what are you talking about? There are times you have to let guys play through stuff and you got to get them to change on the run,” the UK coach said.
“Then they understand that the only thing they’re trying to conquer is themselves. If you don’t like how you’re playing, change. Immanuel (Quickley) couldn’t make a shot. So he wasn’t exactly playing confidently, either.
“We put Jemarl (Baker) in. He got scored on a few times right there and fouled it. I felt comfortable with Ashton. I know he was turning it over and — but you know, Tyler (Herro) — we just — guys didn’t play well. I want to tell you that I got to give Auburn credit for really getting up in and bumping and grinding and doing some stuff that got these guys a little off kilter.
We were able to play and throw it inside, and I thought we did a good job to survive. You’ve got to have better perimeter play and we have all year until today. Now, I’m going to give credit to Auburn. I’m not saying that’s why we lost.”
However, many UK fans were definitely pointing to the point guard play from Hagans, who at midseason was playing like the best point guard in the SEC before his play dropped off dramatically at the worst time of the season for UK in the final few weeks.