By LARRY VAUGHT
Maybe Georgia’s Anthony Edwards will turn out to be a top three pick in June’s NBA draft and the top freshman player in college basketball this year.
However, give me Kentucky freshman Tyrese Maxey when it comes to helping his team win this season.
Maxey was superb against Tuesday night to help Kentucky win 78-69 at Georgia in not only its first Southeastern Conference road game but also its first true road game this season.
Edwards, a 6-5 guard, had 23 points, five rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes. He was 8-for-17 from the field but only 3-for-9 from 3-point range. He also made the mistake of mocking Maxey when he drove inside, made contact that put Maxey on the floor and scored.
Maxey had 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting from the field. He was just 1-for-3 from 3-point range and surprisingly missed three of five free throws. However, he played 39 minutes and had eight assists, seven defensive rebounds, four blocked shots and one steal.
“Maxey has some courageous drives and finishes,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said during the game. “That’s a complete game (Maxey’s stat line) and he is not even breathing hard.”
Where Edwards was often content to settle for 3-point shots, Maxey was willing to drive to the rim and either get a shot or find an open teammate. Sure, he might take some awkward, off-balanced shots but he makes a lot and also puts tremendous pressure on the defense to close on him and leave others open or risk him continuing to finish at the rim.
I remember at the McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta last year listening to both Maxey and Edwards talk about being friends and how often they had played against each other. Maxey joked after the game he was going to “chat” with Edwards about the “too little” taunt he made after scoring on the UK freshman.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who tried to sign Edwards, said the UK coaches were on Maxey to pass more and did not know he had six of his eight assists in the second half when UK outscored Georgia 47-32. If the Cats had not gone 10-for-20 at the foul line — UK came into the game hitting 80 percent at the line — the margin would have been a lot more.
“This is tremendous answer by Kentucky on the road,” Bilas said. “This Kentucky team has grown up a lot.”
Yes it has starting with the Ohio State game in Las Vegas when it played well but didn’t quite win. The overtime win over Louisville provided a needed dose of confidence and now UK is 2-0 in SEC play with a home game against Alabama coming up Saturday.
Fans who doubted the Cats should also pay attention to this comment Bilas made near the end of the game.
“This team is nowhere like the team Kentucky had in 2015 (when UK went 38-0 before losing),” Bilas said. “But in a season where are no powerful juggernauts, this team has a chance (to be in the national title chase).”