The chart of Anthony Davis’ evolution reads opposite to that which Charles Darwin suggested.
Anthony Davis had his mid-range jump shot working on Saturday against the Commodores. (247Sports Photo by Jeff Drummond)
Davis once stood straight up and felt if he wasn’t getting lobs thrown his way at the rim, he may not be able to score. Now his default is to bend down, and he’s evolving into a legitimate national player of the year candidate.
Davis set a career high with 28 points in No. 1 UK’s 83-74 win Saturday over Vanderbilt, adding 11 rebounds and five blocks in a dominant performance the Cats needed to thwart off the hot-shooting Commodores.
Davis shot 10 of 11 from the field without fielding a single alley-oop attempt. He also made 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.
The 6-10 freshman turned a bit of a corner Tuesday’s game against Mississippi State. There he was unleashed a little bit offensively; head coach John Calipari told Davis it was OK to take a few 3-point attempts in an effort to loosen up. Davis took two threes Tuesday, missing both.
But from the beginning of Saturday’s game, Vanderbilt took note of Davis’ newfound trigger itch. As soon as Davis got his first touch on UK’s first possession—he was 20 feet away from the basket—Commodores center Festus Ezeli was in Davis’ pocket, guarding Davis as tight as if he were Doron Lamb.
Davis didn’t handle those first few possessions too terribly well, he said, because he was standing straight up.
But less than three minutes into the game Saturday, Davis figured it out. He got the ball at the top of the key, Ezeli still in his pocket, and got low. Davis then drove left, all the way to the hoop, and was fouled as he somehow scooped in a left-hander that instantly rang on Rupp Arena as one of the uber-skilled freshman’s most skilled moves yet.
“The first couple of plays, I wasn’t bent down, I was standing straight up. That’s how they kept taking the ball and we couldn’t get into our set. When I stayed low, I was able to beat them off the dribble or hand the ball off or do whatever the play was. That made a lot of difference in the game.”
Each of Davis’ 10 field goals Saturday had a little bit of different flavor on it. Two were on ravaging, full-steam-ahead drives—and one, described above, was thrown in left-handed. One was a put-back. Only one was a dunk.
One particularly deft shot—one few would have imagined Davis making in December, or even January—came late in the second half. With just under four minutes left, the Cats held a 66-65 lead, but a series of missed driving lanes found Marquis Teague with the ball and seven seconds left on the shot clock.
Teague found Davis, who bobbled the ball about 18 feet away, looked, and realized he had an open shot. He took it. It went in.
Davis said he’s worked hard not only to hit that shot, but to convince himself that he can hit it consistently and with confidence. That’s evolved his game into the multi-dimensional one seen Saturday.
“I wasn’t knocking down shots (before),” he said. “They found out I was missing free throws, couldn’t take bumps. There were a lot of flaws in my game so I kept working on them, working on them. I didn’t catch a lob today and was still able to find ways to score the ball.”
After the game Saturday, the first question to Calipari in his post-game news conference was about how Davis is now changing games offensively instead of just on defense. His game has evolved, and it showed against the Commodores.
“I’ve been holding him back,” Calipari said. “I’m trying to get him to stay in school another year.”
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