Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery spoke to the media earlier on Friday ahead of Kentucky’s matchup with the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday afternoon and they gave us some updates on where the team is at right now.
We’re already over halfway through regular-season SEC play and March is just a couple of weeks away, but Richards thinks the ‘Cats are on a good path.
“I think for us, as a team, I think we’re moving in the right direction to become that team that we want to be in March,” Richards told the media. “We’re getting better every day, especially in practice. Off the court, we’re building a bond, building chemistry, together as players. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Following the 75-66 loss to Auburn back on Feb. 1, Kentucky has rattled off three consecutive victories, winning by an average of 11.6 points per game. With ranked matchups coming up later in February against LSU (No. 25) and a rematch with Auburn (No. 11), now would be a perfect time to hit a groove.
Richards has been an important component of Kentucky’s recent success. He posted a career-high 27 points in the win over Mississippi State which he then followed up with a 15-point, seven-rebound outing against Tennessee and a 12-point, seven-rebound effort in the comeback win over Vanderbilt. The junior big man shot 18-26 from the floor in those three games and an impressive 18-21 from the charity stripe. His recent success is a big reason why Richards is quietly making a run at National Player of the Year awards.
For some odd reason, Richards wasn’t tabbed to the Center of the Year Award list, but did make the cut for Naismith Trophy midseason watch list – given to the nation’s top player. But he’s not letting those achievements distract him from what’s really important.
“Just being humble. Just being the person I know I can be,” Richards said about not getting carried away with the midseason honors. “I grew up in a family that taught me how to be humble both on and off the court. My coaches, they do a really good job on that. They talk to me about it all the time. My teammates, they treat me the same way no matter if I had a bad season or if I’m having a good season. I think it’s just the people you hang around with that’s going to keep you like that.”
He doesn’t do it alone, and knows it. Someone has to feed him the ball. Luckily, he has three premier guards surrounding the perimeter that know how to do just that. Those three guards can take Kentucky far into the tournament, but the team has undeniably played better with Richards on the floor compared to when he sits.
“Whatever the play call is that Coach wants us to do, I just do it,” Richards added. “He wants me to be more demanding of the basketball, I understand that, but some of my teammates are really good scorers. I have three point guards on the court. They know when to get me the ball in the right situations and I trust them.”
Kentucky will host Ole Miss on Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN.