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Ashton Hagans not at full strength but he’s figuring out his role and how to help UK win

Ashton Hagans (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON — Ashton Hagans wasn’t at full strength but had enough energy to carry Kentucky to victory Monday night.

Hagans scored a carer-high 26 points to lead the ninth-ranked Wildcats to a 82-74 win over Utah Valley to help Kentucky survive its second scare in less than a week.

“(I’m) still feeling it a little bit, but it’s all good,” he said. “(I’m) going to go back and get some treatment, just keep getting with (trainer) Geoff (Staton) and get better.”

Coming off a 67-64 loss to Evansville that dropped the Wildcats eight spots in the latest AP Top 25 rankings, they depended on veterans Hagans and Nick Richards to avoided another mishap four games into the season.

Already short-handed, the Wildcats were without veteran guard Immanuel Quickley. EJ Montgomery missed his third straight game while recovering from an ankle injury. Quickley injured his chest in practice Sunday, leaving Kentucky with just seven scholarship players.

“It’s not too tough (playing with seven players),” Hagans said. “We’ve got other guys who can step in and play their roles. Big Ben (Jordan) helping us out a lot, fighting with Nick (Richards), Riley (Welch) and Brennan (Canada) coming in and giving us the reps that we need. We all just trying to figure out our roles and trying to get better.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Kentucky’s offense was driven by Hagans.

“They went zone and we’re still learning how to play against it,” Calipari said. “We had to play through Ashton. If we didn’t play through Ashton, we really did not get a shot.”

Hagans has been battling a leg injury but consistent treatment has kept him on his feet and the sophomore guard took advantage of several drives to the basket and was perfect at the free-throw line against the Wolverines. Hagans connected on all 12 of his free throw attempts, becoming the 15th player in school history to  accomplish the feat with at least 12 attempts.

Hagans got some help from Richards, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, the second double-double of the season. Richards, whom Calipari called the team’s best shooter inside the arc, connected on eight field goals on 11 attempts.

“That’s the Nick that we need,” Hagans said. “He just has to keep on bringing it. You know Cal just kept on telling us to feed him and let him shoot the jumper. He had it and he was knocking it down. He just opened it up for us and he helped us out.”

The only disappointment for Richards was not getting a block on the defensive end of the floor.

“That is something that I am mad about,” he said. “I am disappointed in myself because I had a couple of opportunities to get a couple of blocks tonight. We just have to appreciate the win tonight and be grateful for that.”

Nick Sestina, also a veteran, tallied eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds, the most by any Kentucky player in a single game this season.

Ultimately Hagans took over and gave the Wildcats the boost they needed against a gritty Utah Valley squad down the stretch.

“Last year, coming in, I was just trying to figure out my role,” Hagans said. “This year, just taking with coach (Calipari), he just let me know that this was my team and to be a leader, bring everybody together and just talk to them and go on to the next game.”

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Gametracker: Mount St. Marys at Kentucky, Friday, 7 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

3 comments

  1. Michigan State won big time tonight…Auburn won big tonight…UT playing very well out of the gates. Could Calipari be the problem? He didn’t exactly have his chargers well prepared for the game.

  2. Calipari sounds like a coach who is on the hot seat with all of the excuses he is making for this team….lifetime contract or not. The interior defense was better but we gave up way too many 3s. There is no flow to our offense…too much one on one play. They did bring Nick from the weakside to post on the strongside lower block and got him the ball as soon as he reached that spot and an amazing thing happened….Nick scored easily all 3 times. That play should have been run a dozen times, but no, just 3. Hagans did penetrate well and found Nick for a couple of drop offs and a lob as well as a couple of 12 footers on the weakside baseline. Hagans is also finishing at the rim and hitting freethrows….if only he could find an outside shot. Right now, Ashton and Nick are 80% of our offense. The things they are doing will be harder to do against better coached, more disciplined teams. What has happened to Maxey? He was a world beater against MSU but can’t even beat an egg now! Me thinks coach is messing with his head. I am also beginning to wonder about EJ’s desire to get back on the court….I was led to believe that his injury was not that bad. The pieces for this team are not fitting together. Will we eventually figure it out or will coach shove square pegs into round holes? Last night was the latter and it wasn’t pretty even if it did end up as a win.

  3. UK is the walking wounded right now. The loss of Quickley hurt UK big time in this game. I will gladly take the win, 3-1 is much better than 2-2. Richards and Hagans were the difference. Utah Valley hit just about every thing they threw up, and I suppose UK defenders didn’t defend or close on their shooters like they could have due to potential foul problems with just a seven man rotation. UK must heal up and improve to the man going forward. I suppose they will.

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