Either Ben Howland is a master of coach speak or he really, really likes this Kentucky team. Yesterday, the Mississippi State coach spend a good chunk of his press conference raving about the Wildcats, specifically the “Big Four” of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, and Nick Richards.
“They’re obviously a great team and really well-coached. A Hall of Fame coach [in John Calipari], excellent back court. I think [Ashton] Hagans is really special. He’ll be up for defensive player of the year. His hands are just lethal. He’s so good at anticipating and creating havoc with his defense on and off the ball. [Immanuel] Quickley is playing unbelievably. He’s shooting 48 percent from three in the conference which is mind boggling. [Tyrese] Maxey is an NBA player with incredible talent. Those three guards are incredibly difficult to match up with because they all drive it and shoot it. They’re really good in transition.”
In two games vs. Mississippi State last year, Hagans averaged 6.5 points, 9 assists, 3.5 turnovers, and 1.5 steals, while Quickley was scoreless in one game and had five points in the other. Playing behind PJ Washington and Reid Travis, Nick Richards averaged 5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1 block in only 8.5 minutes of play in Kentucky’s two wins over the Bulldogs. All three “veterans” are now averaging 12.8 or more points per game, with Richards’ leap stealing the most headlines. Over the last ten games, the junior big man is averaging 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds.
“Nick Richards has been an unbelievable story in terms of his growth as a player and how dominant he’s been over the course of the last dozen games or so,” Howland said. “He’s a special talent and obviously a huge factor for them offensively. Both not only on the block, but he can face up and make 15-17 foot-shots which I didn’t know he could do until this year. He looks really good doing it. He’s an animal on the offensive glass. Every time the man guarding him goes to block, he’s going to dunk it if they miss unless you’re unbelievably good at rotating down and blocking him out. He’s a great rim protector.”
Tonight, Richards will go up against Mississippi State star Reggie Perry, who is averaging 20.3 points and 11.0 rebounds over his last ten games. There’s been a lot of talk about that matchup this week, especially after Richards struggled vs. Auburn’s Austin Wiley, but Howland dismissed it.
“I think you guys [the media] are making it more of a big deal than they do. This is something that is a great story, but Reggie is trying to win the game for Mississippi State. Nick Richards is trying to win the game for the University of Kentucky. I don’t think they’re going into this game thinking, ‘I’m going against Reggie Perry,’ or ‘I’m going against Nick Richards.’ It is what it is. There is someone really good on that team every night, and it’s about us winning. Again, that’s a media driven story, versus anything coming from any of those players.”
Mississippi State is 0-13 vs. Kentucky in the John Calipari Era, and although we may be a little concerned that Rupp will be sleepy for a 9 p.m. weeknight tip, Howland is preparing his team for what he believes could be the best home court in the country.
“They’ve got a great home court advantage. You’ve got to play really well to beat anybody on the road, much less Kentucky which has the best home court advantage in our conference. It’s just a great atmosphere for basketball on a national level. I don’t know if there’s any better home court in the entire country.”
I don’t know about all that, but if you’re going to the game tonight, don’t let Ben Howland down.