By LARRY VAUGHT
Does Kentucky have chemistry issues?
It sure looks like it could with the recent decline in point guard Ashton Hagans’ play combined with whatever caused him to tell coach John Calipari he was not going back in the game against Tennessee Tuesday — before he did and played very poorly as UK was blowing a 17-point lead and losing.
Hagans and teammate Nick Richards exchanged words on the court. Maybe it was Richards complaining about not getting the ball. Maybe it was Hagans urging Richards to rebound. Maybe it was Richards telling Hagans to get his head in the game, especially after one turnover where he jogged back on defense that resulted in a 3-point play for Tennessee.
“Neither one played particularly well, so probably telling each other, ‘You’re not playing well, and neither are you, neither are you, neither are you.,'” UK coach John Calipari said after the game in an obvious attempt to downplay the situation that played out on national title.
What about the bad looking body language on the court often during the 17-point Tennessee comback?
“We have been on a heck of a run. This team has done a lot of good stuff, and the one thing we worry about is if the game is going to be physical, like, Nick’s getting, you know, then we have got to learn to play in these kinds of games,” Calipari said.
Notice he did not answer the question.
Calipari noted once out of a timeout he called a play to get a shot at the basket and instead another player took a jump shot.
“Come on. We got manhandled, I got manhandled,” Calipari said.
I’m not sure if it was manhandled as much as just outhustled. Kentucky quit playing. Maybe it’s not fair to put most of the blame on Hagans but he’s been on a bigger downward trend that Immanuel Quickley has been on an upward trend.
Remember this was supposed to be Hagans’ team. He was SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman and we heard how he was going to be an improved offensive player. I’ve never questioned his competitiveness or toughness. He’s played through injuries and he doesn’t back down from anyone.
But he also pictures himself as a NBA player next year, something I can’t quite get with his offensive deficiencies. Could he be trying to impress NBA scouts too much maybe without even realizing it?
One SEC coach told me the best way to counter Hagans is to rattle him mentally. Question his ability to score. Dare him to take open shots. Back off him and leave him open. Challenge him to try and drive inside to score. The theory is that Hagans won’t have the patience to avoid being driven to show opponents he can answer the insults.
“If he controls the pace, looks for teammates and doesn’t try to do too much, then Kentucky is really, really good,” the coach said. “But if you can get him off his game, make him rush or try to do too much, then he sometimes makes mistakes.”
Calipari has shown time after time he believes Kentucky is better with Hagans on the court. Can’t see him changing his thinking now. So here’s hoping whatever might be going on with Hagans and the Cats gets corrected — and no reason to think it can’t — or the Cats can forget having an enjoyable Marfch.