Kentucky Basketball: Hamidou Diallo’s improvement, marked by 3-game hot streak, is ‘why you come here’

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hamidou Diallo came to Kentucky for days like Saturday, when he was back home in New York scoring 23 points at Madison Square Garden helping a top-10 team cruise to victory over Monmouth.

“You come to Kentucky to get better,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said afterward. “You come here to be challenged. You come here like, ‘I want to be in a practice where everybody can play.’ Hami did it for that reason, and he’s getting better.”

Diallo is riding a three-game hot streak in which he’s averaged 20.3 points, 4.3 rebounds. 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals — shooting 63 percent from 2-point range and 14 of 19 at the free-throw line. That on the heels of a three-game stretch when he averaged just 7.7 points with 4 total assists, 9 total free-throw attempts and shot 35 percent from the field.

“He’s trying to do what we’re asking him to do,” Calipari said. “Being a more willing passer, doing less, looks way better. Less is more for him, but that is so hard. Just do less, don’t try to do as much. Do these things.”

RELATED: Teammates say Diallo can be a dominant defender

Those things being (in addition to more consistent defense) a judicious use of the 3-point shot — just five attempts the last three games — and liberal use of attack mode. Drive and finish, drive and pull up, drive and get fouled. Drive, drive, drive.

And when he does raise up for a jump shot: “I forced him to hold his follow-through,” Calipari said. “There’s nothing wrong with his shot. It’s sometimes shot selection, but you’ve got to get into the habit of, ‘Every shot I take, I hold my follow-through.’ Then it becomes the same shot every day. Then you can become more consistent.”

Diallo said doubts about his shooting ability, the No. 1 knock on his game when he was weighing whether to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, have been “fuel to my fire.” He has spent many hours before and after practices refining his form.

He’s shooting a respectable 47.2 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range through nine college games, but the last three have him trending sharply upward.

“It’s definitely been a main focus,” Diallo said, “because that’s what everybody critiques about my game. But I’ve just been working on my whole game … just trying to get better as a total basketball player and be what this team needs me to be.”

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