By CHANDLER WILCOX, Contributing Writer
Ashton Hagans had a career night in Kentucky’s 82-74 win over Utah Valley State Monday, scoring a career high 26 points off 7-14 shooting from the field and going 12-12 from the free throw line along with adding five rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes of play for the short-handed Cats.
Just like the team as a whole, this was a bounce-back for Hagans, as he only had three points off 1-8 shooting from the field in the loss last week against Evansville, and for him it was keeping himself on track in preparation for the game to help lead the team to victory.
“Just staying focused and staying in the gym, shooting when I get the chance, and attacking the basket while getting my teammates open shots,” Hagans said analyzing his performance tonight.
Not only did he lead the team in scoring, but Hagans feels he is taking on a leadership role emotionally too, as he grows this season.
“Last year coming in I was just trying to figure out my role, but this year just talking to coaches daily and going into their office daily, he’s (Coach Cal) just letting me know this is my team and telling me to be a leader,” the sophomore guard said.
A big part of being in a leadership role is taking the big shots when a game is close, and towards the end of the game, when Utah Valley State guard TJ Washington picked up a technical foul as the Cats led 75-70, UK Coach John Calipari immediately chose Ashton Hagans to shoot the two free throws that were awarded from the foul.
Hagans stepped right up to the line and nailed both shots, and Coach Calipari was confident he would, as to him it was a no-brainer to have Hagans take the shots.
“There was never a doubt in my mind who I was putting on that line for those technicals,” UK Coach John Calipari said.
As the Cats were short-handed with only seven scholarship guys available, Hagans was going to have to play as many as 36 minutes of action like he did tonight, but that didn’t affect him much.
“Not too tired,” Hagans said of himself. “(We) just gotta move on to the next game now.”
Another player that played over 35 minutes was Nick Richards, who had another good game posting 21 points and 10 rebounds, and his performance was helping Hagans get down the lane to easy baskets.
“Cal just kept on telling us to feed him and let him shoot the jumper and he had it, so it just opened it (the lane) for us,” the sophomore guard said.
Hagans had been dealing with a leg injury, but now feels fully healthy and ready to keep playing.
“I’m good,” Hagans said confidently. “I’ll get treatment and get ready to go play the next game.”
Ashton Hagans was crucial to getting Kentucky a victory tonight against the Utah Valley State Wolverines, as he is starting to show a glimpse of how great of a player he can become, while also showing he can be a leader on this team.