Collins Key in Kentucky's Win at Alabama
There was very little to indicate that Kentucky freshman Daimion Collins would play a key role for the Cats on Saturday at Alabama. In fact, it would not have been a surprise if he hadn’t played at all.
Take a look at UK’s last four games, and Collins’ participation in them. Collins did not play against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night. He also did not play at Kansas last Saturday. Against Mississippi State, he played just one minute. And at Auburn, he did not play.
That’s one minute played in Kentucky’s last four games. In fact, in the 2022 calendar year, Collins had not played double figure minutes until Saturday night. The last time he did so was against High Point on New Year’s Eve, when he played 12 minutes and scored six points.
But in the first half of Saturday’s SEC matchup, UK head coach John Calipari went to Collins in place of Oscar Tshiebwe. And the moved paid off in a big way.
Collins played just three minutes in the first half, but he made the most of his time on the floor. He made one of two from the floor, hit all four of his free throws and grabbed three rebounds.
Calipari had a thought in the middle of the night that led him to play Collins in this contest.
“Daimion Collins was the difference maker,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “I don’t know what woke me up in the middle of the night saying ‘lob, lob, lob’. And I watched enough of their tape, they collapse. So you have that, if you have a guy to throw it to. So I told him at shootaround, we’re going to throw this lob and I’m putting you in for that reason.”
Kentucky fell behind 9-1 and trailed Alabama and was looking for a spark in the early going. Collins provided that, according to fellow freshman TyTy Washington Jr.
“He helped a lot,” Washington said. “He just came in and made his presence felt on defense. Then on offense, Coach Cal was realizing that their big was stepping up so if we could just throw it up by the rim, he could dunk it.”
And while Collins’ performance may have surprised many, the Cats could see it coming.
“Everybody in the whole program knows what Daimion can do,” Washington said. “He’s been spending extra hours in the gym. I knew that this game was going to come if he just got his opportunity to play.”
In the second half, Collins added another four points and three more rebounds. His 10 points marked the third double-figure scoring game of Collins’ freshman season. He had a a career best 14 points against Robert Morris on Nov. 12. Then on Nov. 26, he had 12 points against North Florida.
Calipari is impressed that Collins has continued to work hard for his opportunity.
“What I love about him is, I didn’t play him for five games. Never even looked at him,” Calipari said. “And he now has just forced me to figure out how to play him.”
Collins was key to the Cats winning their 19th game of the season.