6:18:49 UKvsGTMBB2019

Kentucky sophomore guard Ashton Hagans dribbles the ball up the court during the Kentucky vs Georgia Tech basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 67-53. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were stinging for an upset, but Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans stung right back.

Hagans and Quickley’s heroics were able to keep the Cats afloat as No. 8 ranked Kentucky defeated Georgia Tech 63-57 at Rupp Arena on Saturday evening. Quickley dropped tied his career-high in scoring for the third time this season with 16 points and Hagans led all scorers with 21 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.

One thing to note is that Kentucky started three guards for the second straight game on Saturday night – the only two times that UK has had such a lineup this season. That gave Quickley a chance to start for the first time since his chest contusion injury last month. 

UK coach John Calipari emphasized the significance of his new three-guard lineup. 

“Did you know I started three guards?” Calipari said. “Did you guys even notice that? The best teams I’ve coached I’ve played five and six guys. This team, I’m hoping I can play nine.” 

If you ask Quickley, he agrees with the new lineup.

“We’re very versatile. Me, Tyrese [Maxey] and Ashton are really good offensively. You don’t lose anything when you go three guards,” Quickley said.

Quickley opened up the game with a hot three-pointer that got the Rupp faithful juiced up. Hagans would complement that with layup right after a jumper to give the Cats a 7-0 lead. But the Yellow Jackets responded as if they weren’t the same team that the Syracuse Orange blew out by 34 points last week. Georgia Tech (4-4) eventually led 26-21 at one point with 7:23 remaining in the first half.

“They [Georgia Tech] just came out fighting. They were talking a lot and got a great big man and guards,” Hagans said. 

But while Hagans had 11 points at halftime and Quickley had seven, the guard duo was just getting started.

After Kentucky came out of halftime leading 36-30, Quickley and Hagans combined to scored 17 of UK’s first 21 points of the half. Each guard had emphatic treys from downtown in the half to keep Tech from pressing ahead. The Yellow Jackets never led once after halftime, despite trailing by a possession at one point.

As any seasoned vet would do, Hagans kept his fellow comrades calm, cool and collected as the Cats broke ahead and never looked back. 

“I was just talking to them [my teammates] on the defensive end and letting them know that I’m there with them. If they mess up, you just tell them, ‘Move onto the next play. Keep on moving.’” Hagans said.

Hagans certainly provided his fair share of defense as all seven of his rebounds came on the defensive side. He chipped in two sneaky steals, one of which turned into a fastbreak layup, and helped commandeer a Kentucky defense that forced 17 turnovers.

That’s a style of play that Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner couldn’t help but praise.

“He [Hagans] was a pro tonight. He was a first-round pick the way he played tonight. He’s gotten better and continued to improve,” Pastner said. “I’m really high on Ashton. I think he’s really, really good and he continues to get better each game.”

Kentucky (8-1) now has a faces a critical two-game road trip to Las Vegas coming up next week. The Cats will first face the Utah Utes in the sin city on Wednesday, Dec. 18 before taking a short rest and facing the Ohio State Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 21.

“Once we get everyone clicking on all four cylinders, we will be a tough team to beat,” Quickley said.