Hagans Returns to Form at Vandy
Ashton Hagans’ decision-making had been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons over the last couple weeks.
On Tuesday night, he flipped all that on its head.
Three players from each team might have outscored him, but Hagans was the best player on the floor anyway as Kentucky rallied from down double digits against Vanderbilt for the second time in two weeks. Hagans had 11 points, a career-high 10 rebounds and eight assists and the No. 12/12 Wildcats (19-5, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) downed the Commodores (9-15, 1-10 SEC), 78-64.
“I was just trying to go out there, be aggressive,” Hagans said. “I picked up two fouls in the first (half). We had a few mistakes in the first half that we came out and fixed in the second half.”
Hagans – coming off a five-game stretch that saw him commit 22 turnovers – had just one against Vanderbilt. He didn’t have a single one in the second half, when Hagans had nine points, five rebounds and six assists and UK outscored the Commodores 51-28 to overcome a deficit that ballooned to 14 points late in the first half.
“The whole thing with him is that discipline and being disciplined as you play,” John Calipari said. “So that you’re not trying to do crazy stuff, because you’re disciplined and you’re focused. He’s had a lot of turnovers the last five games. Well prior to that he hadn’t had hardly any. So what’s the difference? Did you change as a player? You changed how you’re thinking. You’re trying to do crazy stuff instead of what’s easiest.”
With Hagans’ miscues mounting, outside criticism has followed. The only kind of criticism Hagans pays any heed is the constructive kind offered by his coaches and teammates, which helped yield his performance in Nashville.
“It’s always going to be something,” Hagans said. “I can’t really say too much. Last game I think I had like six, five (turnovers). I was just trying, after that one turnover, to just not force anything else and just try to let the game come to me.”
By taking that approach, a triple-double nearly came Hagans’ way. He finished just two assists shy of becoming only the fourth Wildcat ever to log one, but Hagans was unaware until after the game. Had he known, Hagans admits he might have reconsidered the poster dunk he attempted (and missed) with just over a minute left.
“I did not know,” Hagans said, smiling. “I would have passed it if I did, but I was trying to catch a dunk. … I just try to stick to the game and just keep the flow of it.”
That’s exactly what Hagans did on his final two assists. Vandy was making one last push, trimming the UK lead to five coming out of the under-four timeout. Calipari called for a play to free Immanuel Quickley, which Hagans executed to perfection. The next time down, Hagans found Quickley for yet another 3-pointer, all but sealing the game.
“I ain’t going to lie to you,” Hagans said. “Every time I pass it to him, I just turn around and go down the court and just start smiling. Because I already know he’s hitting it.”
Another minute later – after Hagans made a layup – Coach Cal called an unconventional timeout between two Commodore free throws. It turns out he had good reason to do it, as Hagans was cramping and Calipari wasn’t about to try to finish that game without his point guard on the floor. He’s too important, both for his play and his presence.
“I said, ‘If I gotta burn another one, I will. I’m not taking you out,’ ” Calipari said. “So he laughed. He said, ‘I’ll be all right.’ … He has an air about him that the other guys feed off of and he makes them more confident. He does.”