LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari gave Hamidou Diallo a hug in front of the team after Kentucky’s 87-66 win against Missouri on Saturday night. Kevin Knox scored 21 points and Jarred Vanderbilt snatched 15 rebounds, but it was Diallo who was deserving of the embrace.
“You know, it’s been hard,” Calipari said about his starting shooting guard’s season. “I wasn’t gonna kick him to the curb, I wasn’t gonna throw him under the bus. It’s been hard. Ninety percent of my time was figuring out, ‘How do I get this kid going?’ ”
Diallo got going Saturday night, and his teammates gave him a standing ovation after the game. The redshirt freshman who was 3-for-19 behind the arc in his last 10 games was a perfect 3-for-3 from distance against the Tigers. He had 11 points, 2 rebounds and his first assists since Jan. 30.
“The rim just got bigger from there,” Diallo said. “Just seeing things like that, knowing what I was going through, knowing that I got a coaching staff fighting for me and players fighting for me — that’s just a blessing.”
Even as his 3-point shooting dipped below 20 percent in conference play, Diallo has started all 29 games for Kentucky. His minutes had been declining — 16, 15 and 10 in his last three games — but Diallo played 25 minutes against Missouri.
Calipari’s hug meant something.
“He believes in me,” Diallo said. “That’s why I chose to come here. A bunch of people thought I should’ve been benched, at a point I thought I should’ve been benched. He just kept starting me, kept believing in me.”
Diallo said the past month has been tough for him. He called the season a roller coaster, as he’s done in the past. He seemed well aware of his struggles, but confident that they might finally be behind him.
“You can’t be the type of player you want to be if you can’t make it through adversity,” Diallo said. “Hopefully, I’m only going up from here.”