Sophomore DeAndre Liggins' rise from "DNP" hit new heights in Kentucky's 76-68 victory over Georgia Saturday.
"DeAndre was probably the difference in the game," UK Coach John Calipari said. "If I had to play other people, we probably don't have enough to win."
Liggins, who did not play in Kentucky's first nine games (a bench-warming stint never explained), had the coach considering an expanded role.
"Now the question is should I start him," Calipari said.
Never miss a local story.
The UK coach liked how Liggins competed, especially defensively. Georgia's Travis Leslie scored 12 of his team's first 15 points. Then Liggins set a tone that saw Leslie score two points over the next 18 minutes.
"His tremendous defense, everybody's starting to see that," teammate Patrick Patterson said. "He brings tremendous energy. He's a hustler out there. ... When DeAndre's out there, we know he'll provide a lot of hustle."
In practices, Liggins applies constant pressure on freshman guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, Patterson said.
"Coach has told me to come to practice and compete," Liggins said. "And everything else will take care of itself. I knew my opportunity would come. I just had to wait. When my name was called, I came in and helped my team."
Calipari noted how he exhorted — in vain — for more Cats to contribute.
"For us to be one of those teams, our bench has to be deep," he said. "It wasn't this game."
Liggins' rise comes as starting wing Darius Miller struggles. After playing a season-low eight minutes against Louisville (third fewest minutes in his two UK seasons), Miller played 15 against Georgia. He made one shot, grabbed one rebound, made one steal, scored five points and struggled to defend Leslie early.
"There's always something that shows me, uh-oh, I better get him out because I'm not going to guess he'll play through it," Calipari said when asked about the former Mr. Basketball. "He hasn't proven to me that he'll play through it.
"He hasn't shown me the mental toughness that 'I'll play through it. Watch the next play.' It affects the next play."
Eric the ready
Calipari noted how one UK player always wants the assignment to contain a hot-shooting opponent. The UK coach asked reporters to guess which player. When player interviews began, reporters rushed to Eric Bledsoe.
"It was me," said Bledsoe, who helped cool off Leslie.
Bledsoe cited competitiveness as the reason for his volunteerism.
"John (Wall) is competitive, too," Bledsoe said. "I'm just real competitive. I'll take anybody. He (Leslie) was getting to the hole too easy."
Bledsoe's competitiveness led Calipari to warn Louisville's Reginald Delk last weekend to not incite the freshman guard. Television showed Calipari apparently yelling at Delk early in the Louisville game.
"Cal knows I'll fight," Bledsoe said. "It just takes a split second."
UK made two of 14 three-point shots for a second straight game.
"We've got a couple guys we're counting on to make shots that aren't," Calipari said. "But I'm not worried about it. ... You have spells you don't shoot well. It just happened to be two games in a row. I just hope it's not three games in a row."
UK plays next at Florida on Tuesday.
Georgia received only last-place votes in a pre-season media poll. So what did it say that the Bulldogs extended UK to the final 30 seconds?
"If you guys are right, this league is very balanced," Georgia's first-year coach, Mark Fox, said. "Because Kentucky is very, very good. We played really hard, and I'm proud of the kids for that."
Patterson shared team-high scoring honors with John Wall. His 17 points moved him past Jim Master for 30th place on UK's career scoring list. His total increased to 1,284 points. Next up is Sam Bowie at 1,285 points. ... Ashley Judd's father, Louisville resident Mike Ciminella, worked on the telecast. He was the "bug operator", the term used to describe the person who updates the score that appears on the screen.