For Hamidou Diallo, the cheering didn’t stop at the conclusion of Kentucky’s 87-66 victory over Missouri on Saturday night.
“I gave Hami a hug in front of the team,” UK Coach John Calipari said of the postgame locker room scene. “They gave him a standing ovation. You know, it’s been hard, and I wasn’t going to kick him to the curb.”
Diallo, whose 11 points marked only his third double-digit scoring game since Jan. 13, expressed appreciation for the show of support by teammates, coaches and UK fans.
“It just shows I got a great group of guys around me,” he said of his teammates. “They just helped me through a tough time, trying to buoy me. Knowing what I was going through, knowing I got the coaching staff fighting for me, it’s just a blessing.”
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What Diallo had been going through included 1-for-12 three-point shooting in the last seven games and an assist-to-turnover ratio of zero to 10 in the last six.
“He’s out of that rabbit hole he was in now,” Quade Green said after Diallo made all three of his three-point shots and did not commit a turnover in 25 minutes against Missouri. “He’s back to being Hami again.”
Diallo got Kentucky’s unusually good long-distance shooting started with a three-pointer at the 16:09 mark of the first half. Perhaps an omen of what was to follow, it was his first three-pointer since Feb. 10 (and second since Jan. 27).
“It was big,” Diallo said of making his first shot. “The rim just got bigger for me.”
Diallo was philosophical about his struggles this season.
“This sport is all about a roller coaster,” he said. “Every game is not going to be great.”
Diallo said he took comfort in reading a tweet by NBA player Isaiah Thomas that was about dealing with adversity at the pro level.
Diallo’s personal revival included what had seemed to be his trademark play: a dunk off the fast break. It gave the Cats their first double-digit lead: 41-31 with 1:30 left.
“I don’t remember my last dunk other than that one,” Diallo said.
When asked what had been the low point in his time of struggle, Diallo said, “the whole last month has been tough for me. Hopefully it’s just up from here, God willing.”
Calipari acknowledged his concern about turning Diallo’s season around.
“I told the team 90 percent of my time has been figuring out how I get this kid going,” he said.
Calipari’s next project might be Nick Richards. Richards did not score nor grab a rebound in nine minutes. That marked only the second time that had happened this season (Georgia was the first).
In the last two games, Richards had played a total of 16 minutes, scoring one point and grabbed two rebounds.
While affirming that Richards was important to UK’s long-term goals, Calipari said he envisioned using Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington against smaller, quicker front lines and Sacha Killeya-Jones and Richards against bigger opponents.
Jarred Vanderbilt’s first double-double included 15 rebounds, which equaled the most grabbed by a UK player this season (Richards had 15 against Fort Wayne).
“I think it’s safe to say I haven’t seen an offensive rebounder like that all season …,” Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a guy that attacks the glass like he did.”
Vanderbilt had eight points and 10 rebounds in the first game against Missouri.
“He’s the guy who I remembered after that game,” Martin said. “Just the way he attacked. He was just getting back into the groove of things, so I can only imagine the level of play he’d be (at) if he’d been here all season and played every game.”
The superstitious will see significance in the number that star freshman Michael Porter Jr. intended to wear for Missouri this season.
Porter, who was projected as the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has played only two minutes this season. He injured his back in November. He might not play again this season.
Porter chose No. 13.
He practiced for the first time on Friday since injuring his back in the season’s first game. He participated in pregame warmups, but did not play.
Kevin Knox recalled being booed every time he touched the ball at Missouri.
“They booed me checking in,” he said. “I wasn’t even in the game, and they booed me. I was, like, wow, that’s crazy.”
Knox said he expected Porter to turn pro after this season regardless of how much the Missouri freshman plays.
That prompted a question: Will Knox go the one-and-done route?
“Well, that’s the goal,” he said. “If anything happens and I come back, I love the coaches here. I love the players. (But) if I have the opportunity, I’ll take it.”