By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones believed he was going to help Kentucky win this season. Maybe not many others did, but he never doubted he would play a much bigger role this season than he did as a freshman.
Sunday he did just that, too. He hit two free throws with 5 minutes, 34 seconds remaining against Vermont and UK clinging to a 65-61 lead on its way to a 73-69 win.
Killeya-Jones had six points — 1-for-2 from the field, 4-for-4 at the foul line — along with four rebounds in 18 minutes. He did not have a turnover.
But the biggest thing was that he was in the game against a team that won 29 games last year and went to the NCAA at crunch time. He didn’t get a chance last season to play in a game in crunch time. This shows the added confidence coach John Calipari has in him this season.
“Sacha played his butt off today. You just saw him, the work that’s put in. This is what he’s looking like in practice and now he’s carrying it over into the game,” Calipari said. “His confidence is going to be demonstrated performance, not me telling him, ‘You’re great, you’re the best, you’re –‘ no. You do it in practice, you go in a game, you demonstrate that performance to your self.
“That’s how you build confidence. I can’t build it for these guys. He was terrific.”
Killeya-Jones says it is not a complicated process to earn Calipari’s trust.
“Just doing what he asks me to do: rebounding, defending, doing the things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet but just playing harder and playing with effort,” Killeya-Jones said.
He did that … and more.
Kentucky never utilized his size and athleticism last year. Maybe he wasn’t ready. Maybe he wasn’t given a chance. Bottom line, it doesn’t matter. That’s in the past.
This season Killeya-Jones could be extremely valuable for Kentucky with his defense, rebounding and scoring ability. He doesn’t have to get 15 points per game. No, just rebound, play defense and hit the shots he’s got.
Remember, he was a McDonald’s All-American. He can play.
The sophomore said the team learned it can finish games Sunday.
“We also learned that we can’t come off flat in the second half and can’t lean on a lead too heavy because they can go away quickly. Just playing together and finishing strong,” he said. “It’s great to get this win. It’s good for these young guys to see what they have to do when the game gets close. It’s all good experience.”
It was also good for Killeya-Jones to show Calipari he could make free throws when they counted most. That’s how he’ll get to play more in late-game situations.
“I, personally, was just happy to make my free throws today in general. I know I am a very capable free-throw shooter, but I’ve just been kind of slumped so far this season, and I guess a little bit last season. Y’all know what my numbers were. I was just happy to get to the line and knock down some free throws like I should be doing and keep that going,” he said.
If he can keep the kind of play going that he had Sunday, he’ll get plenty of chances to keep doing what he did and that will not only be good for him, but also for Kentucky.