Tuesday night's game against Ole Miss can serve as a bookend in the transformation of Kentucky wing DeAndre Liggins.
In Oxford last season, Liggins went off the rails spectacularly. He made three of 16 shots (one of seven from three-point range) as UK lost 85-80. That from a player who had made three of 13 shots in earlier league games and only one of his last 23 three-point attempts.
The loss nullified Kentucky's 5-0 start to Southeastern Conference play and marked the beginning of the end for then-coach Billy Gillispie.
"I tried a lot of ill-advised shots," Liggins said when asked Monday to recall his performance. "I did something out of character."
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A year later finds Liggins as a defensive specialist and heady hustler. He's only shot 14 times in six SEC games. Less is more as he's made seven shots, a far better accuracy than the 10-for-52 (19.2 percent) he had against league opponents as a freshman.
When asked if he's a smarter player now, Liggins said, "Yes, sir. I've accepted my role and try to do a great job."
UK Coach John Calipari again lauded Liggins' hustle.
"DeAndre's like a cyclone out there," Calipari said. "There's no such thing as a 50-50 ball with him. He gets them all. It's 100-0 balls. That's the play you need in a game. That's why he's starting to steal minutes from guys."
Fair and fowl
Darius Miller played a season-low eight minutes and is coming off back-to-back scoreless games. Calipari termed Miller's eight minutes (his third lowest total in two seasons) as a matter of fairness.
"What happened again is we have a team full of guys," the UK coach said. "If somebody's playing better, you play them. There's got to be some reward for how you practice.
"I still believe in Darius. I think he's one of our better players. He's just not playing that way right now."
Calipari noted that many players go through "spells" when their performance suffers. At those times, they must make room for a teammate playing better.
"It's kind of like geese flying," the UK coach said. "You get tired, son? Go back to the end of the line and hang out a little bit. We'll just keep flying forward."
Injury hits Rebels
Freshman Reggie Buckner sprained an ankle last weekend against Arkansas. That removes a player Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said had "our most physical presence around the basket" for a game against Kentucky's massive front line.
Coincidentally, Michael Washington had a double-double (22 points and 11 rebounds) for Arkansas at Ole Miss.
"He's our stronger and most athletic frontcourt player," Kennedy said of Buckner. "Physically, he's the only guy on our roster that realistically has a chance to match up with some of those guys wearing the Big Blue."
Kennedy noted how the Rebels must "find a way to hold our own up front," perhaps with timely trapping of the post and making the entry pass difficult to make.
Because weather concerns moved the Arkansas game from Saturday to Sunday, Ole Miss became one of five league opponents having only one day to prepare for UK.
Kennedy accentuated the positive. "It'a a great opportunity to play in a legendary arena," he said. "I'm sure it'll be packed (and) on national TV. That's why kids come and want to play in the SEC."
John Wall's nine assists against Vandy gave him 135, breaking Dirk Minniefield's school record for assists by a freshman. ... Eight NBA general managers or assistant GMs asked for a seat for Tuesday's game. Calipari suggested they want to see Ole Miss's guards (Chris Warren, Terrico White and Eniel Polynice) compete against UK's freshman standouts. ... DeMarcus Cousins ranks eighth nationally with 12 double-doubles. ... UK's .889 winning percentage against Ole Miss is its best against any SEC opponent. ... Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and Jeannine Edwards will call the game for ESPN.