WHO’S NEXT? Does UK’s Go­liath face a David miss­ing his sling­shot in Van­der­bilt?

Lexington Herald-Leader - - Sports - BY JERRY TIP­TON jtip­[email protected]­ald-leader.com

When Ken­tucky plays Van­der­bilt on Sat­ur­day night, the al­ways al­limpor­tant point guard matchup ap­pears to have a David-and-Go­liath qual­ity. And David does not have a sling­shot.

Nine­teen steals in the last four games shows how ef­fec­tive UK point guard Ash­ton Ha­gans has been in dis­rupt­ing op­po­nents.

“You know, just play­ing my game,” he said of this av­er­age of 4.8 steals per game (which, if main­tained, would al­most dou­ble Ra­jon Rondo’s record of 2.6 steals in 2004-05).

When asked about Ha­gans’ 19 steals, as­sisthad ant coach Joel Jus­tus said, “That’s the guy you want on your team . . . . Dis­rup­tive (over) 94 feet. You have the op­pos­ing point guards look­ing over their shoul­ders, and other guys won­der­ing where is this guy? That’s an un­set­tling feel­ing for a point guard to have some­body come af­ter you for as long as Ash­ton does.”

Of course, Van­der­bilt lost its five-star fresh­man point guard, Dar­ius Gar­land, to a sea­son-end­ing in­jury on Nov. 23. The Com­modores are im­pro­vis­ing by run­ning of­fense through an­other five-star fresh­man. But the Plan B, Simisola Shittu, is a 6-foot-10 for­ward/cen­ter.

As the care­ful and wary coach, Jus­tus down­played the no­tion of a mis­match.

“How­ever they de­cide to bring the ball up the floor, that’s some­thing we’ll have to ad­just to,” Jus­tus said. “I think Ash­ton’s go­ing to im­pose his will on a game whether they have a point guard or a non-tra­di­tional point guard.”

Ha­gans has been dis­rup­tive with­out foul­ing. In UK’s last four games, he’s played 118 min­utes and been called for a to­tal of nine fouls.

Ha­gans at­trib­uted this to lessons learned early this sea­son. He played 20 and 13 min­utes in UK’s first two games. He four and three fouls in those games.

“In high school, you can foul all you want, and the coach is go­ing to leave you in the game,” Ha­gans said. “Know­ing in col­lege, that two-foul rule is real. You get those two fouls, you’re not get­ting back in the first half.”

As for those 19 steals, Ha­gans cred­ited UK Coach John Cali­pari for giv­ing him the free­dom to gam­ble.

“Cal just lets me play my role,” he said. “Lets me go for balls I can get.”

Jus­tus cited depth as a “great part” of UK’s suc­cess.

“Who is go­ing to be the guy that steps up to­day in prac­tice, and who’s go­ing to be the guy who steps up in the game,” he said. “That’s the ex­cit­ing part of the process. You’re just wait­ing to see who is next.”

‘IT’S IN­SANE’

Yanni Wet­zell sat out last sea­son af­ter trans­fer­ring to Vandy from St. Mary’s. He said he drove to Lex­ing­ton to watch last sea­son’s game in Rupp Arena.

“It’s in­sane,” he said of the Rupp Arena ex­pe­ri­ence. “When I was there, they packed it out. It felt like an NBA arena. The at­mos­phere was a hap­pen­ing. I’m ex­cited to play there.”

‘THREE-POINT U’

The head­line “Three­p­oint U” ap­pears in the notes pack­age Van­der­bilt pro­vides the me­dia. Van­der­bilt is one of three pro­grams that have made a three-point shot in ev­ery game since the rule went into ef­fect in the 1986-87 sea­son. Vandy’s streak of mak­ing a three­p­ointer is 1,045 games.

When asked at SEC Me­dia Day about the im­por­tance Vandy places on its three-point streak, Coach Bryce Drew said, “We talked about this as a coach­ing staff. We don’t want that record bro­ken un­der our watch.”

The other two pro­grams that have made a three-point shot in ev­ery game are Prince­ton and UNLV.

UK AND GAR­LAND

Fresh­man point guard Dar­ius Gar­land fea­tured promi­nently in Vandy’s plans for the sea­son. “I’m not try­ing to be a hero,” he said at SEC Me­dia Day in Oc­to­ber. “I just want to play bas­ket­ball . . . . I’m the leader of the team. I have the key to his car. Wear a seat belt. Don’t be reck­less.”

Then, of course, Gar­land sus­tained a sea­so­nend­ing knee in­jury in the team’s fifth game.

Gar­land, a five-star re­cruit from Nashville, re­called be­ing re­cruited by Ken­tucky and UK’s pitch.

“I could be one of the next great play­ers at Ken­tucky . . . . ,” he said. “It hum­bled me. I re­ally liked Ken­tucky.”

In com­mit­ting to Vandy, Gar­land said, “I went with my gut.”

WHERE ARE THEY?

Three Van­der­bilt play­ers fin­ished their ca­reers last sea­son as 1,000point scor­ers.

Ri­ley LaChance is play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally in Poland. Matthew Fish­erDavis and Jeff Roberson are play­ing in the G League. Roberson is play­ing for the Maine Red Claws (the Celtics’ af­fil­i­ate) while Fish­erDavis is play­ing for the Rio Grande Val­ley Vipers (the Rock­ets’ af­fil­i­ate).

ETC.

● Vandy has a 1-0 record against ranked op­po­nents. The Com­modores beat then No. 18 Ari­zona State 81-65 on Dec. 17.

● Dave Neal and Daymeon Fish­back will call the game for the SEC Net­work.

CHARLES BER­TRAM cber­[email protected]­ald-leader.com

Ken­tucky point guard Ash­ton Ha­gans, right, has made 19 steals in the Wild­cats’ four most re­cent games.

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