If someone told you a certain Kentucky guard had 13 points on 3-for-3 shooting from deep, played just about as well as he could have defensively and had a critical play down the stretch in UK's 77-64 win over the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday, would you have guessed it was Wildcat freshman Johnny Juzang?
If you’ve watched No. 15 Kentucky all season, then no, you wouldn’t have. In fact, he’d probably be your last guess. But the freshman finally had his break through—on a day when one of UK’s most important players, sophomore guard Ashton Hagans, was struggling.
Juzang’s full statline included 13 points, and the guy didn’t miss. For someone who has been struggling all season, he was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, 3-of-3 from three-point range, 2-for-2 from the free throw line and added a rebound and an assist with one turnover.
“He’s got a great attitude,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “He takes responsibility for how he’s playing. You are what your stats say you are… and he just kept fighting. I was so proud of him.”
Before his career-high 24 minutes off the bench against the Volunteers, Juzang was averaging 11.3 minutes per game, playing as many as 20 minutes and as little as two, and not scoring more than six points in any game. On the season, he was 5-of-25 from three-point range for just 20 percent. He had eight points at halftime in Knoxville, already a career high, and finished with his career-best 13. It was a game in which he pretty much had no choice but to step up—Kentucky’s floor general Hagans was turning the ball over left and right and the Cats were having big-time foul trouble in the first half.
“Johnny Juzang, he stays ready, puts in the work every single day, first one in the gym, last one leaving, proud of him,” freshman guard Tyrese Maxey said. “Coach told him to stick with it, keeping fighting and today we really needed him.”
What were equally as important as his shooting were his one rebound and single assist. Three minutes into the second half, Juzang saw an open look in transition and made a bounce pass to big man Nick Richards, who turned it into a dunk and a 10-point lead for Kentucky. Then down five with eight minutes to go, Juzang grabbed an offensive rebound and bucket off of a missed Richards free throw, in what was possibly his most important basket of the season so far.
“If you have a clear vision and goal in mind of what you want to do, you’ve got to keep pushing,” Juzang said. “Not always are you going to feel great or motivated or positive, that’s just not realistic. You’ve got to go through stretches where you’re down and not motivated and you might lose a little bit of hope. You just got to keep going no matter how you feel.”
The x-factor for Juzang, according to Calipari?
“Johnny is not afraid to shoot the ball,” he said.