In the six games before Kentucky’s victory over West Virginia, the advanced numbers have not been pretty for Kentucky freshman center Nick Richards.
According to @HoopsInsights, the team has been substantially better in this stretch of SEC games with the Kentucky big man off the court than on. It hasn’t been just his scoring struggles or foul trouble, it’s included offensive and defensive rebounding, opponent shooting percentage, and overall net rating.
With Richards In:
- 23% offensive rebound rate
- 65% defensive rebound rate’
- Opponents shooting 59% on two pointers
- UK has been outscored by 36 points in 182 possessions
- -0.05 net rating per possession
With Richards Out:
- 34% offensive rebound rate
- 72% defensive rebound rate
- Opponents shooting 45% on two pointers
- UK has outscored opponents by 36 points in 238 possessions
- +0.28 net rating per possession
He hasn’t passed the eye test in conference play, and the numbers (unfortunately) back that up.
To start the game against the Mountaineers on Saturday night, it was much of the same.
In fact, it only took seven minutes for me to tweet something ridiculous about Richards’ performance.
Nick Richards is horrible.
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) January 28, 2018
He had just one point, three rebounds, two fouls, and a turnover at halftime, but even that didn’t tell the whole story. Mountaineers were scoring on him in the paint left and right, and his offensive limitations only added to the large deficit.
When everyone begged Calipari to keep Richards on the bench to give Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, and Jarred Vanderbilt more playing time and a realistic opportunity to make a comeback, he went right back to his freshman center.
And once again, Calipari was proven right.
Richards managed eight points and five rebounds in the second half, including a game-sealing putback with just 33 ticks left on the clock.
In addition to the tip-dunk, Richards drilled four consecutive free throws to tie the game up, converted on a tough floater in the lane, and sent a West Virginia shot into the stands after being this close on several other block attempts throughout the game.
The Kentucky big man heard his critics, myself included, and shut them up.
This afternoon, several of Richards’ Kentucky teammates talked about the impact he made during the upset victory, and how this was a breakthrough moment for a kid that has been through a rough slump this season.
“Nick came up real big for us (Saturday),” said Wenyen Gabriel. “He had a growing-up moment at the game and he started dunking the ball, getting rebounds. You just saw the fight. We always knew he had in him. He has the ability to do it. Just to see blossom in that type of environment was real big for us.”
“That’s why he’s in at the end of games, because he makes plays for us,” said Kevin Knox. “That big dunk at the end was really big for us. It got us kind of the final play to close the game. Just gotta keep playing hard and he’ll keep playing good.”
Head coach John Calipari told the media this afternoon that the team “mobbed” Richards after the game to congratulate him on his clutch performance.
“You ready for this? They mobbed Nick (Richards),” John Calipari said Monday. “And I said, ‘Nick, now you know. They all are happy for you. They all want you to do well.’”
Judging by his reaction, stepping up for his teammates in the big moment meant a lot to him, as well.
Sometimes it’s so easy to criticize a player in the heat of a moment, but when you see reactions like that, it immediately puts things in perspective.
Richards has always had the potential, now he just needs to maintain that level of confidence he found in the second half.
And I need to stop writing dumb tweets.