Everyone recognizes the impact Kentucky’s core four can have on a game. But for a deep run through March, you need everyone to play their role and contribute in their given minutes.
It may have taken some time, but Keion Brooks Jr. and Johnny Juzang look to be settling in. The pair combined for 14 points and eight rebounds in tonight’s 89-79 win over Georgia, the team’s second victory over the Bulldogs in two weeks.
“I had some rough moments, strung back to back together” Brooks said. “I just kept pushing through… eventually, I knew it was gonna get going.”
Brooks has continued to rebound well, recording five for the third game in a row. He said his confidence was spurred by assistant Kenny Payne during the final stretch of the Arkansas game.
“For [KP] to tell that he has the belief in me and faith in me to stay in the game… you just wanna go out and play hard,” he said. “Being left in, you have to be productive somehow. If that’s scoring, rebounding, making plays for your teammates, you just want to go out there and do something positive.”
“He said, ‘Keion Brooks, you’re gonna grow up today.' And I said, ‘alright KP’” he added with a smile.
It was the second straight game for Juzang with multiple baskets – he set his season-high in points with six – and fifteen minutes played, an amount he hadn’t reached since an early season matchup against Farleigh Dickinson.
“Just trying to find ways to contribute,” he said in a radio interview with UK Sports Network. “My shots weren’t falling early in the year… I can get in there and rebound, and find different things to do.”
The totals may be modest compared to others, but that doesn’t mean the work he did wasn’t valuable. Coach Cal acknowledged the performance unprompted in the opening minutes of his postgame press conference.
“How about Johnny Juzang today?” he asked. “Terrific. He just has a nose for the ball. The kid makes plays, he makes baskets.”
The win moved Kentucky to 14-4 overall, with a 5-1 mark in SEC play. The Cats remain one game back of conference leader LSU. Georgia fell to 11-7, and just 1-4 in the SEC. Coach Tom Crean isn’t one for moral victories, but senses his team getting better with each game.
“We’re growing up,” he said. “And it’s a hard league to grow up in.”
The Bulldogs tough start to the conference slate – which included the two Kentucky games, and one on the road at Auburn – lightens up over the next week when they take on Ole Miss and Missouri, two of the bottom three in the standings.
The Cats have their final non-conference affair of the regular season on the docket, traveling to No. 18 Texas Tech on Saturday in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The game is set for a 6:00 p.m. tip, and can be viewed on ESPN and the ESPN app.