After the free beer was consumed and the throngs of Texas Tech students were let into United Supermarkets Arena hours before tip, the stage was set for a monster January college basketball game. After 45 minutes of intense, up and down action both Texas Tech and Kentucky delivered.
The end result of the game was a two-point road win by Kentucky to give them a 4-1 record in Quad 1 games with victories over legit conference contenders in three of the power leagues. To do it, they needed another monster performance from their big guy in the middle.
Kentucky put up 76 points in 77 possessions posting 0.99 points per trip against one of the sport’s best defensive teams in a game that had a pace that moved much faster than a lot of Texas Tech games this season. Despite going 21 of 25 at the charity stripe and hitting seven threes, Kentucky posted their lowest points per possession number since the loss to Ohio State thanks to some sloppy ball control.
The Wildcats committed 20 turnovers and that resulted in 26 percent of their possessions becoming giveaways. It’s hard to efficiently score against a defense the caliber of Tech’s when you are just throwing out a possession every four times up the court. The fact they were able to post the numbers they were screams a good shooting night and it all started with Nick Richards.
Entering the game, Texas Tech just did not have the personnel to hang with Richards if he was able to stay on the floor. That paper matchup showed up in the game with the junior posting 25 points and 14 rebounds. The five-man got to that number on only 10 shots and went 11 of 14 from the free throw line. He gave UK 39 minutes and was the biggest individual difference between the two teams. He is starting to build a legit All-American campaign.
On the perimeter, UK’s three-guard lineup had 15 combined turnovers and that’s hard to believe when each has the ability to be a really good college basketball point guard. However, Immanuel Quickley once again picked up the slack with 21 points and four three-point makes in 42 minutes. He was sloppy with the ball, but he hit some much needed outside shots and the one at half turned out to be very important.
It was just not a good offensive night for both Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey. The two combined for just 13 points on 16 shots and it is going to be very hard for UK to win when getting numbers like that from the two players that lead them in usage rate. However, Hagans still continues to be one of the best dime droppers in college basketball with his seven assists now allowing him to currently rank 11th in assist rate.
The four spot has long been an issue for Kentucky this season and in Lubbock, Cal decided to ride EJ Montgomery and Nick Sestina exclusively. The two gave UK 12 points on nine shots with Sestina provided two made threes in the last 25 minutes while Montgomery’s effort to start the game allowed the Wildcats to build an early lead. It was a step back moment for Keion Brooks Jr., but UK got positive contributions from the four and you’ll take that at this point.
Kentucky allowed 74 points on 77 possessions with the Red Raiders putting up 0.96 points per trip. Texas Tech was just 3 of 19 from deep, but they found a lot of success inside the arc. Tech made 53.3 percent of their two-point attempts and scored 45.9 percent of their points in the paint. They were an efficient 17 of 23 at the foul line and this was a pretty good performance for a team that currently ranks 109th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Kyler Edwards led the team with 18 points on 11 shots while point guard Davide Moretti got rolling in the second finishing with 15 points. However, the junior and 90.9 percent free throw shooter made just 1 of 2 late and that allowed the game to go into overtime. Leading scorer Jahmi’us Ramsey was only able to get six points on nine shots and once again Kentucky’s perimeter defense was able to get the job done for the most part.
In a lot of ways, Kentucky did some really good things on defense but they did not get help from their offense. UK’s 20 turnovers led to 25 Texas Tech points and this was the biggest statistical mismatch of the game that went the Red Raiders’ way. Kentucky has had ball security issues quietly all season and they really had an impact on their defense in a big time game.
There were many plays to chose from, but when Kentucky needed a stop the most their point guard was there for them in crunch time.
It wasn’t his best night, but Ashton Hagans is a dominant defender on the ball and that traveled on the road. He sits low in a stance and has great instincts knowing when to swipe and dig at the basketball. After a rough night, he took the game over in overtime on the defensive end and came away with a steal on UK’s final defensive possession. He can change the game with his guarding ability.
SEC Player of the Year
In the two losses in Las Vegas, Nick Richards scored just seven points, grabbed just four rebounds and looked completely lost. Kentucky all of the sudden found themselves sitting at 8-3 and wondering if they had a major front court issue. That has all been thrown out the window in the month sense.
Since that woeful west coast trip, Kentucky is 7-1 with three Quad 1 wins and two victories in overtime. In this run, Nick Richards is putting up 17.6 points, 9.75 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game while shooting 66.2 percent from two-point range and 73.6 percent from the charity stripe. He has been a matchup nightmare for every opponent and has been Kentucky’s biggest weapon.
In overtimes against both Louisville and Texas Tech, the junior big took over the game and carried Kentucky to a victory. Last night in Lubbock with UK’s guards not having their best performance, Richards put the team on his back to get them a huge resume boosting win.
The game with Mississippi State big man Reggie Perry on February 4th could be the only individual matchup we get with the two top candidates for the SEC Player of the Year award.
What a developmental story.
This is a great comment from Nick Richards about his development.
"Just because I go to a school known for one and dones, doesn't mean I have to be one and done." pic.twitter.com/27AxnnAIF0
— Lee K. Howard (@HowardWKYT) January 26, 2020
There was a great college basketball played on Saturday night in Lubbock, Texas with two teams giving maximum effort in a matchup of two of the best coaches in the sport going right now. The atmosphere was electric and we saw a game played with pace while players made plays in space with some very good offensive execution versus some very good defense. It was the kind of game that makes college basketball fun.
From Kentucky’s side, we saw Nick Richards play like an All-American and this becoming a thing is remarkable with the junior bringing it every night for a month now. His development is turning into some story. Even with Ashton Hagans not playing well and Tyrese Maxey not bringing the “it factor” for the first time beneath the big lights, Kentucky found a way to win in a wild atmosphere.
First things first, this team really does play hard and that is one of the best compliments you can give them. Everyone in the rotation is bringing it from an effort and attitude standpoint and that is going to give them a chance in every game. However, at some point, you need your best players to make plays. Nick Richards did it throughout the game while both Immanuel Quickley and Nate Sestina provided some much needed three-point makes. Add that in with Ashton Hagans’ bulldog defensive mentality in overtime to take over the game and you have found a recipe for success.
The next step for this team has to be to find that extra gear. At least three separate times in the second half, UK got the lead to eight points but could not land the haymaker to stretch it out. That allowed Texas Tech to hang around and if Davide Moretti isn’t unintentionally iced on his free throws it is very likely the court is being stormed at United Supermarkets Arena. Kentucky must find that extra gear soon.
On to Vanderbilt.