By LARRY VAUGHT
Ashton Hagans believes he’s the best point guard in college basketball, an attitude that coach John Calipari always wants his point guard to have.
However, the Kentucky coach just happens to agree with Hagans and made that clear after watching Hagans dish out a career-high 12 assists (he has also 12 against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament loss last season) to go with nine points and two steals. It was his fourth straight game with five or more assists — equaling the longest streak of his career — and his second straight game with eight or more assists.
Hagans also had just two turnovers in the 69-58 win over UAB in 34 minutes of play.
“I made some statements to him, like, you know, we could say there are better point guards in the country, but you got to tell me who you’re talking about,” Calipari said. “Because when you defend the way he defends and you’re as tough as he is, he went 12 assists, two turnovers.
“He’s shooting 47 percent from the floor and he missed all those threes early. So it’s not, if you want to say the last two games, what is he from the three? So I think he was 2 for 3 and now he’s 1 for 3. So he’s 3 for 6 the last couple games.”
That’s when Calipari was told Hagans actually had three 3-pointers Sunday against Lamar when he was 3-for-4 from long range. He was 1-for-3 against UAB. Before these two games, he was 0-for-9 from 3-point range.
“But he’s also like 90 percent (actually 86.8 percent after he went “only” 4-for-6 at the line Friday). So when you look at this, the way he guards, the way he disrupts the game, the hands that he gets balls, he just needs to be more disciplined in what he’s doing,” Calipari said.
“I mean, I need to know who is better than him. Like, I don’t see it. I mean, ‘Oh, this kid and that kid and that kid.’ Well, let me tell you, you win games with guys like him. You do.”
UAB coach Robert Eshan certainly would not disagree.
“I thought as the game went on, they really did a good job of putting Ashton in some isolation situations to let him attack, use his size and strength and length,” Eshan said. “When he got in the paint we had a difficult time. He probably threw three, or four, maybe five lobs to the big guys for dunks, which I thought really gave them some momentum.
“I think he hit his first 3 which was kind of a back breaker for us because we were kind of playing him for the drive. He is obviously a really good player and he did a great job of controlling their offense and getting the ball where he needed to and getting it to his guys.”
Hagans downplayed what he did. Instead, he said he was just taking what the defense gave him.
“Once I got to the lane, they would try to come over and help so I had the open guy. It wasn’t just those two guys only. I was just trying to find my open man and attack the basket early,” Hagans said.“Not only just trying to just throw it at the rim. A slip, a pick and pop. They can catch a pass and knock down a mid-range. That just gets them going. Especially with EJ (Montgomery).”