Hawkins the Next-Man-Up for the Job

John Calipari was a little more than 10 minutes away from coaching in a pressure cooker.

Archrival Louisville was in town for the annual Battle of the Bluegrass, and it would pit two top-15 teams against one another.

It was in that moment he was told Isaiah Briscoe – the freshman guard who hasn’t shied away from a big moment all season – had turned his ankle during warmups and was unlikely to play.

His reaction – “busting out laughing,” in Coach Cal’s own words – was probably not the one you’d expect.

“I said, ‘Stuff happens,’ ” Calipari said. “And I laughed and said, ‘Next man up. Who is it? Someone is going to get an opportunity now.’ ”

Dominique Hawkins had the same thought, though absent the laughter.

“I was thinking that it’s my shot,” Hawkins said.

Indeed it was Hawkins’ shot.

The junior, after Charles Matthews started in Briscoe’s place, played 26 minutes against the Cardinals (11-2). He took full advantage of nearly every second, blowing by his career high with 13 points, all of which were needed in a 75-73 win for Kentucky (10-2).

“Great performance,” said Tyler Ulis, who was named the game’s MVP after posting 21 points and eight assists. “ ‘Zay, with him being out, Dominique came in and hit some big 3s, hit two big free throws that probably put the game away for us and I’m happy for him.”

Hawkins’ free throws were UK’s final two points of the afternoon and gave the Cats a five-point lead with less than two minutes to go. They came in the kind of situation Hawkins has imagined since he was a youngster playing in his backyard in Richmond, Ky.

“Me and my friends used to always pretend back on outside goals that, like, Kentucky versus Louisville,” Hawkins said. “One of my friends is a Louisville fan; I’m a Kentucky fan. We did like a two-on-two game. Usually Kentucky would always win. It was fun though.”

Playing and winning the real thing was even more fun.

Beforehand, Hawkins said all the right things about treating the game just like any other. Afterward, he admitted it was special.

“It was a big game,” Hawkins said. “So glad I was able to get the opportunity to play in this game. I’m blessed. Big rivalry game. I know what it means to Kentucky folks. Everybody is pretty happy today.”

The sellout crowd of 24,412 was loud from the three tries the two teams needed to get the opening tipoff right onward, but the sound fans made when Hawkins made his three big 3s was just a bit different. 

The first came as U of L tried to build a first-half advantage, but Hawkins delivered keep the Cats in it. The second started a 22-2 run spanning the two halves that gave UK a 16-point lead. The third came with less than three minutes remaining. 

Hawkins entered Saturday with eight career 3-pointers in 46 attempts. He credits his 3-of-4 performance to a good warmup and a couple other factors.

“Plus, it’s a big game,” Hawkins said. “I feel like I play better on bigger stages, as well. I was confident. Every shot I threw up I felt like it was going to go in.”

That confidence came in part from familiarity with the Cardinals and the stage that accompanies facing them. Hawkins has now played against U of L four times, winning each of them.

“It’s very important to have that knowledge, definitely against this team,” Hawkins said. “They love the pressure, and trap and press, stuff like that. You just have to be calm and have great composure against this team.”

Calipari saw exactly that from Hawkins.

“Never changed his emotion the whole time,” Calipari said. “He defended, he'll fight like crazy, he's got a great temperament, a great demeanor. One of the great kids of all time. I mean literally one of the great kids.”

In that regard, Hawkins reminds Calipari of teammate Alex Poythress. For that reason, Calipari finds himself rooting for both to succeed. Their success, however, is on them.

“You can't do it for them, you could wish it, you could hope it, you could say that's the guy you really want to make it,” Calipari said. “But they got to go do it. They got to go fight.”

For Hawkins, Saturday is proof of what can happen if he fights in the way Calipari is asking him. It also makes for quite a memory.

“Really can’t put it into words,” Hawkins said. “It’s beyond whatever amazing is. To be able to be a Kentuckian and play that well, I’m just blessed.”