Within the five-on-five battle of basketball is the one-on-one matchups across the floor.
UK head coach John Calipari only saw one player who did that for the majority of UK’s win over Tennessee.
“DeAndre (Liggins) was the only one who went out to say, ‘I’m ruining your day. This is you, and this is me,’” Calipari said. “You have to take those personal challenges.”
Liggins rose to the personal challenge in his usual emotional way. At one point, Liggins was jawing with players and officials, and Calipari had to tell him “enough” from the sideline. Later, Brandon Knight had to pull Liggins’ arms down as he semi-protested a call.
Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said he understood talking is part of the game, but he doesn’t care for it.
Pearl also said he wished he had let Hopson guard Liggins instead of Doron Lamb.
“Liggins can’t score on Scotty,” Pearl said, according to Wes Rucker of GoVolsExtra. “Scotty can score on Liggins.”
In two games, Hopson has scored 24 points on 5-for-18 shooting.
In the most recent edition, Knight said all Liggins wanted to do was guard Hopson.
Hopson, however, gave less credit to the personal matchup with Liggins.
“Kentucky just threw good defensive schemes at me,” Hopson said in a muted tone after the game. “It’s not just Liggins. I fouled him out, so it’s not just Liggins.”
Reggie Miller, the color commentator for the game, didn’t see it the same way.
“Reggie Miller, all he wanted to talk about was DeAndre Liggins,” Calipari said. “He said second half, (UK) played well, but DeAndre Liggins was the difference for your team. Only one that showed in the first half and really guarded Hopson in the second half.”
UK teammates also gave credit to Liggins for playing his customary defense.
Since he was in foul trouble, however, it wasn’t just him. Knight complimented Lamb for his play guarding him. Knight also complimented Darius Miller for his spot duty, but Miller rebuked him.
“I didn’t really guard him,” Miller said, laughing. “But DeAndre did a great job, as always.”
Vargas dunk earns applause
Another player who stepped up? Eloy Vargas, who scored three points in seven minutes.
That included one stretch in which he got fouled after an offensive rebound, blocked Steven Pearl on the defensive end and then dunked after receiving a pass next to the rim.
“He hasn’t made those now,” Calipari said. “That’s the one that gets blocked by the 4-foot-8 guard.”
Inbounds plays gets UK quick points
Two encouraging plays for UK against Tennessee: scoring four easy points off inbounds plays, while giving up none.
Frequently, the inbounds play will go to Knight in the corner — like the last second of Ole Miss and a few times against Tennessee — so UK adjusted to get players free under the basket.
“We did a couple things different because of how they play,” Calipari said. “They stop you from throwing it in, they steal, they trap. They shift the inbounders away from basket, and away from the corner. So we did things under the basket.”
Those points were part of the difference in a six-point win.
“In a game like this, when you’re in this kind of war, if they’re not scoring on out-of-bounds plays and you get three buckets, that’s huge,” Calipari said.
UK steady in rankings, Knight ties a record
UK is ranked No. 15 and No. 16 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, respectively.
UK guard Brandon Knight was awarded Southeastern Conference Player of the Week for his performances against Vanderbilt and Tennessee. It was his sixth time receiving the honor this season, tying the NCAA record set in 1991 by James “Hollywood” Robinson.