LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Ashton Hagans believed breaking out of recent shooting struggles was just a matter of falling in line with other facets of his game.
And, facing a team from his home state seems to bring out his best.
Hagans scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half and No. 15 Kentucky used a 14-4 run to pull away and beat Georgia 89-79 on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats (14-4, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) had to work to put away the stubborn Bulldogs, who overcame missing 11 consecutive first-half shots and trailed 41-35 at halftime.
The Bulldogs closed within 41-39 and then struggled to score two baskets. Kentucky came out of a timeout and responded with baskets by Hagans and Nick Richards (20 points, eight rebounds) before Hagans made consecutive jumpers to build the lead to eight points.
Georgia didn’t fade and trailed 55-52 when Kentucky answered with the pivotal run featuring six points from Keion Brooks Jr., pushing the lead to 69-56. Hagans closed the game with four free throws as the Wildcats earned their 14th consecutive series win.
While Kentucky didn’t close as completely as coach John Calipari desired, he liked how his squad took control during a critical stretch.
“It was player driven,” the coach said, adding that he had to jump in in the final minutes. “I asked them how they liked the player driven (responsibility) and they all said ‘yeah, yeah.’
“I would like to go full game without getting actively involved. This team became empowered during the last game. Now they feel it is about each other.”
Hagans, a Cartersville, Georgia, native, finished 8 of 17 from the field after making just 14 of 43 the previous four games. He also had nine assists, five rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes.
In three games against the Bulldogs, Hagans is averaging 19.7 points and six assists.
“It’s always good to go against my home-state team,” he said.
Of his shooting, Hagans added, “It’s starting to fall. I’ve just got to keep reps going and just keep getting up shots.”
Richards was 7 of 12 for his second-highest output, Immanuel Quickley had 12 points and EJ Montgomery 10 for the Wildcats, who shot 54% in the second half and 53% overall.
Rayshaun Hammonds and Anthony Edwards each scored 16 points, while Tye Fagan added 14 and Toumani Camara 10 for Georgia, (11-7, 1-4) which lost for the fourth time in five games. The Bulldogs shot 56% in the second half, but finished 44% from the field.
Edwards, the Bulldogs’ top scorer coming in at 19.1 points per game, scored all his points on 7-of-8 shooting after halftime after missing his first five attempts. That speaks volumes about the initial defensive pressure applied by Quickley and Hagans before a halftime switch created better looks for the 6-foot-5 freshman.
“They did a good job on him, we were able to get baskets in other places,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said of Kentucky’s defense. “They were so focused on taking Anthony away, so we kept moving him and driving the ball to those areas he was. I thought Fagan did a good job driving the ball and (Sahvir) Wheeler did a good job off the ball.”
Georgia: Though Edwards initially struggled, the Bulldogs ably filled the offensive void. But in a game of runs, they couldn’t slow Kentucky from mounting the key spurt that earned the victory. Shooting 6 of 25 from long range didn’t help.
“We just had some tough stretches and you can’t do that against them,” Crean added.
Kentucky: Hagans showed his scoring rounds out his game, and the sophomore guard also played with more control, committing just three turnovers. Outrebounded 19-17 at halftime, the Wildcats clamped down to finish with a 38-31 edge, including several offensive grabs ending with a Montgomery basket during the run. They also won despite making just 1 of 9 from deep, another indicator of their shot selections.
Georgia hosts Mississippi on Saturday in their only regular-season meeting. The Bulldogs also aim to end a two-game slide against the Rebels.
Kentucky visits No. 18 Texas Tech on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
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