Liggins’ transformation on display in win over Vols

Sophomore guard DeAndre Liggins goes up for a layup during the first half of the game against Tennessee at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Photo by Zach Brake | Staff

DeAndre Liggins has scars all over his knees.

The sophomore guard hasn’t undergone ligament surgeries or suffered from a freak accident – those scars are from diving for loose balls.

“I try to do all the dirty work,” Liggins said.

It’s not a role he was expecting when he signed on at UK in 2008 as a high-profile point guard prospect, but it’s something he’s come to relish. Liggins finished with seven points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals in UK’s 73-62 win over Tennessee on Saturday at Rupp Arena. He also held the Volunteers’ leading scorer, Scotty Hopson, to 10 points on the night.

After languishing for much for much of his freshman season on the bench, Liggins found himself in a similar situation to start this season. He sat out the first nine games before finally making his first appearance of the season against Indiana on Dec. 12.

Waiting wasn’t the easiest thing for Liggins, but now he said he couldn’t be happier with his role on the team.

“I waited patiently,” Liggins said. “I was humble, I was positive, and now it’s paying off.”

When he emerged from the cocoon of his warmup jersey on the end of the bench, Liggins had transformed from a point guard to a high-energy stopper.

“There’s no such thing as a 50-50 ball with DeAndre,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “He gets them. He goes and gets the balls.”

When that happens, there are more scars on his knees. But he also finds himself with more minutes. He had a season-high 28 against the Vols. That would have been inconceivable for Liggins in his role last year at point guard, but his ability to play on the wing has given him the chance to play at the same time as star freshmen guards Eric Bledsoe and John Wall.

Calipari said Liggins’ ability to play – and guard – multiple positions has him being noticed by scouts. Junior forward Patrick Patterson said Liggins’ ability to make the shift from position to position is a testament to just how talented he is.

“He’s very multi-talented,” Patterson said. “He was able to run the point guard last year and did a good job with that. Now that he’s transitioned to the wing, it just shows that he’s a very skilled player and he’s able to do a plethora of things.”

Patterson said Liggins’ increased confidence is the biggest difference he’s seen in him this year. Though he hasn’t earned his first start of the season to this point, he’s slowly gained a bigger and bigger foothold on his spot in the rotation.

Senior guard Ramon Harris didn’t play against Tennessee, the first time he’s sat out all season. Sophomore guard Darnell Dodson started, but played 13 minutes – less than half of what Liggins registered. And sophomore guard Darius Miller, who once held a tight grip on a starting position, saw only seven minutes on the court as Liggins continued to see his role on the team increase.

“He’s as valuable to our team right now as anyone,” Calipari said.

I’ve been watching Liggins this year and what i’ve seen of him, i’ve been thoroughly impressed. He’s easily become my favorite player on the team. I didn’t have much faith in him at the start of the season, but after seeing Liggins get rebound after rebound and making fewer mistakes than Orton or Bledsoe in critical games, I was converted. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him on the starting lineup once or twice this season and depending on next year’s recruiting class, getting a solid starting spot in the ’10-’11 season. He’s finally getting the positive attention he deserves.