DeAndre Liggins Could Emerge As Kentucky's New 5th Man
They're all over the place.
John Wall, Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe have been seemingly immortalized by the Kentucky Wildcats' faithful throughout coach John Calipari's first 16 games.
Win No. 16—also Kentucky's first Southeastern Conference test—didn't come without a challenge from visiting Georgia.
It did come with a new hero in sophomore DeAndre Liggins.
Liggins jumped off the bench with 13:05 left in the first half and provided the instant defense the Wildcats were searching for, contributing two steals and a charge taken before leaving the game three minutes later. He entered for more spurts throughout the game and eventually tallied six points in 14 minutes—the most time played from any player off the bench, and only one minute less than starting guard Darius Miller.
When Kentucky needed an answer to an 11-point first-half comeback, Calipari said that was what Liggins did.
“Who fought?” Calipari asked. “You tell me who went in and fought. DeAndre Liggins. It is not brain surgery. We all saw how he can play.”
And what was expected of the No. 57-ranked player in ESPN's 2008 recruiting class finally came to fruition.
Liggins played scrappy against the Bulldogs, fighting for every one of his 14 minutes. He made the only two free throws offered. And though he handled the ball quite a bit, shooting 2-of-3 with only a miss from three-point range, Liggins never turned the ball over.
Liggins said performances like he had Saturday are mostly mental, and they begin in practice.
“Coach [Calipari] has told me to come to practice and compete, and everything else will take care of itself,” Liggins said. “I knew my opportunity would come. I just had to wait. I have practiced well. You just have to be patient and wait your turn. When my name was called, I came in and helped my team.”
Now Calipari has to decide what to do with Liggins.
Calipari could start him, breaking up the group of Wall, Patterson, Cousins, Bledsoe, and Miller, who have started 14 of Kentucky's 16 games this season. He could also keep Liggins on the bench, where the sophomore is unlikely to ever fulfill the potential brought by a recruit who turned down Kansas, Memphis, and Illinois to play for the Wildcats.
Based on toughness off the bench Saturday, Calipari said Liggins is now a leading candidate to fill a starting role—most likely in Miller's place.
“Now the question is, do I start him? Should he be a starter?” Calipari inquired after Georgia fought Kentucky to the wire. “We are in the middle of the season and you have to ball. You have to go out there and fight and compete, and if you are not, I am going to play somebody else.
“DeAndre was probably the difference in the game. If I had to play other people, we probably wouldn't have enough to win. One guy was breaking down and they were coming up with balls. He tied up a ball for a jump ball and made that layup when we were dying. He did some really good things. I was proud of him too—really proud of him.”
If the way 8-6 Georgia unexpectedly played Kentucky is any indication of the hidden challenges the Wildcats' SEC slate could present, Bledsoe said they'll need plenty of contributions like Liggins had Saturday.
The Bulldogs already have losses to Wofford and Virginia Tech on their resume, and excluding wins over Illinois and Georgia Tech, they haven't compiled much to write home about. That didn't stop Georgia from walking into Rupp Arena in front of 24,342 fans to force 12 lead changes and six ties on an overwhelming favorite.
A sign of things to come? Bledsoe said that's probably the case.
“It is going to be tough,” Bledsoe said. “Everybody picked us to pick the conference. That means we have to come out fighting because every team now is going to come out and play like Georgia.”
To continue the fight all the way to an NCAA Title, the Wildcats need a fifth man added to their three freshman starters—Wall, Cousins, and Bledsoe—and the team's junior leader, Patterson.
Re-emerging from the deep end of Kentucky's bench, where he's spent more time under Calipari in his sophomore season and for former coach Billy Gillispie as a freshman, was Liggins.
When the Wildcats return to face Florida on Tuesday, Liggins said he's ready to do it again.
“It helped my confidence a lot,” Liggins said. “I just have to stay humble and get better in practice. Like Coach [Calipari] always warns, I cannot drink the poison. I feel good I just have to continue this on a daily basis.”
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