By LARRY VAUGHT
Not only did freshman Johnny Juzang finally get back into a game and play eight minutes Wednesday in Kentucky’s 71-68 loss at South Carolina but he was also in the game at crunch time.
He was just 1-for-4 from the field — he followed his own miss. But he did not have a turnover and did grab five rebounds.
Kentucky coach John Calipari apparently liked what he saw.
“He missed the shot and stuck it back in. But he had the courage to go get it and go again. Second thing Johnny did is in eight minutes he got five rebounds. So now you say, did he earn more minutes?” Calipari said.
Well, did he?
“I mean, it isn’t who I like, dislike. I love all these guys. It’s not like I’m playing favorites. What I said to a couple guys, ‘You are what your stats say you are. You are what your stats say you are. And so I don’t want to hear I can do this, I can do that. You are what your stats say you are.’”
Fair enough. As I have always heard, the ball don’t lie in basketball and Calipari is looking at stats to help make his decisions.
Juzang was just glad to be recovered from a virus that not only kept him out of practice but also isolated him from the team for about a week.
“I was sick, so I missed those games and stuff like that, and I was coming back from that. So it’s nice to be out there playing again,” he said. “I missed a good amount of time. So I’m just trying to work myself back in the rotation so I can contribute.”
He sees an opportunity to possibly play more even though UK has three talented guards in Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans.
“I wouldn’t say I’m adding any pressure on myself, but I think there’s definitely opportunity for sure. Just keep doing what you’re doing, play hard,” he said.
He came to Kentucky with a reputation as a terrific shooter. In 13 games he’s 23 of 62 from the field — 37.1 percent — and only 4-for-16 — 25 percent from 3-point range. He is 6-for-6 at the foul line.
Juzang says his shots are “feeling good” even if they are not going in. “I’m shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. I’ve been in the gym nonstop. I’m feeling super confident, building my own confidence,” he said Friday. “The shots are feeling great right now, I’m shooting with a ton of confidence, but they’re not falling, so that’s a little frustrating. But, I’m not worried about it.”
Kentucky fans are just like they are about UK bouncing back from the disappointing loss at South Carolina.
“You’ve just got to move on to the next one. Can’t let that energy, that loss, sit too long. You’ve got to get ready for the next one,” Juzang said. “So, it’s a fresh game and you’ve just got to go out there and compete and learn from our mistakes.”
He’s seen enough to know Arkansas will be a “tough environment” on Saturday. “They’re a real solid team. So, we’ve got to go in and compete from start to finish and can’t let off at all,” Juzang said.