DeAndre Liggins keeps late brother close

HOUSTON -- Kentucky guard DeAndre Liggins is plenty motivated going into his rematch with Connecticut’s Kemba Walker in the national semifinal.

He has reason to be.

The last time the two met in November, Walker torched the Wildcats for 29 points in the Maui Invitational championship game. Liggins, Kentucky’s top defender, is ready for his second chance.

“I’m a competitor, and that‘s what competitors do,” Liggins said. “You have to take on the challenge. I’m not backing down. I’m one of the best defenders in the country. If he comes out and he has the hot hand, then oh well, but I’m going to make him work for everything.”

Then there is Liggins’ inspiration, and it’s tattooed on his right arm for all to see -- an image of his late older brother.

Maurice Davis was a standout basketball player for Englewood High in Chicago when on Dec. 16, 2002, he was gunned down outside the school. Davis, 18, was shot in the back during a fight with another student. Davis’ younger sister was the student’s ex-girlfriend.

Liggins grew up in the projects and learned about toughness on the playgrounds in Chicago’s South Side. He looked up to his brother and said he became more focused on basketball after his death. “I just wanted to continue his dream, and that is what I am doing now,” said Liggins, who wears No. 34 just like Davis did.

At Kentucky, Liggins struggled in his freshman season playing for Billy Gillispie and didn’t play the first nine games last season under John Calipari. Over time, he developed into a better shooter and has led the team in steals this season.

“The biggest thing is he’s trusting,” Calipari said. “I love him like a son. I think he looks at us and says, ‘I trust these people.’ And probably for the first time in his life he’s saying, ‘You tell me what you want me to do, and I’m going to do it. I trust you.’”

Liggins has accepted mainly a bench role since late February, but did get the start in the East Regional final against North Carolina. The 6-6 junior came through with 12 points, including a key 3-pointer with 37 seconds left.

“I know my brother looks down on me,” Liggins said. “I am just very blessed to be here ... to not give up, to keep my head up, to be poised.”