INDIANAPOLIS — His Kentucky Wildcats — the team he grew up rooting for — were down 13 points to archrival Louisville just a few minutes into Friday's game, but Dominique Hawkins didn't panic.
The freshman guard from Richmond was in a similar spot this time last year.
Then, Hawkins was the leader of the Madison Central Indians, who shook off several deficits in Rupp Arena to win the Sweet Sixteen championship. On Friday, Hawkins was a role player for a Wildcats team that played from behind all night, only to come back and beat the Cards in the NCAA's version of the Sweet 16.
"To be honest, I really did think about my high school (days)," Hawkins said. "We were in those moments where we were down, and the fans were probably just thinking that there's no way we were going to come back. As players, we just kept on giving each other confidence and saying that we'd be able to find a way to come back."
UK was already down 11-5 when Hawkins entered the game — somewhat unexpectedly — with 14:34 left in the first half. Thirty nine seconds later, Louisville senior Russ Smith hit a three-pointer to extend the Cardinals' lead. That was the only field goal that Smith made when Hawkins was on the court Friday night.
Smith — an All-American and one of the best offensive players in the country — scored just five points while Hawkins played. He had 18 points while Hawkins was on the bench.
"My focus was on my defense," Hawkins said. "I feel like that's the best part of my game. I know I'm guarding one of the best guards in college basketball right now. I was taking it real personal. If he scored on me, I was going to get upset about it."
Hawkins knew he was on the court to keep Smith in check. He took the mission to heart — playing 15 minutes and never scoring a point. He didn't even take a shot.
The 15 minutes were the most Hawkins has played in a game since Jan. 8 against Mississippi State. In that time, he never played more than seven.
"I didn't expect it at all," he said. "I'm pretty shocked that I got that many minutes. It's a blessing to be able to play in the Sweet 16. However many minutes I played, I'm thankful for it."
John Calipari said his freshman guard was "terrific" on Friday night.
"He's a great kid," the UK coach said. "He was ready. I just thought it was a better game for him than Jarrod. He's more of a pit bull. I thought he could play against those guys, and he did well."
The first time Calipari saw Hawkins play in person was at that Sweet Sixteen last year in Rupp Arena. In those games, Calipari identified a player who never gave up, no matter what the score. He saw it again Friday night in Indianapolis.
"You just gotta keep fighting and fighting," Hawkins said. "When I was in the Sweet Sixteen, I know that we were down a lot and we just kept fighting and fighting. The result will end in a win if you keep on doing that."