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RECAP: Nick Richards leads Kentucky out of Lubbock with a win

© Michael C. Johnson | USATSI

© Michael C. Johnson | USATSI

Kentucky arrived in Lubbock as a four-point underdog, with United Supermarkets Arena filled to the brim with students who had camped out for days to see the Red Raiders knock off a perennial powerhouse like the Wildcats. Buzzing off free beers, the Texas Tech crowd did everything they could to help their team win. Instead, they were silenced by Nick Richards, whose free throws with ten seconds left in overtime clinched Kentucky’s 76-74 victory.

Richards’ performance tonight was the culmination of two and a half years of patience and perseverance. Once a project, the junior big man has blossomed into the team’s most reliable — and arguably, most important — player. Richards finished with a game-high 25 points (7 in overtime!), 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks, shooting 7-10 from the floor and 11-14 from the free-throw line. None were as big as the two to allow Kentucky to escape Lubbock with a very big W, before which Richards turned to Immanuel Quickley and said, “I got this.”

Here’s a wild stat: Richards is the first Kentucky player since Anthony Davis to put up 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks in a game. I know we’re supposed to be beyond the point of marveling at his progress, but who would have predicted that a year ago? In this age of one-and-dones, Richards is proof that Kentucky’s system also works for those who need extra time and are willing to put in the work, a point that hits especially hard given the news of the week.

While my heart rate slows down, let’s go over the rest of the game, because it was a classic.

Immanuel Quickley was clutch, again

Richards’ free throws were huge, but the Cats may not have made it to overtime without another big shot, this one from Immanuel Quickley, whose halfcourt heave at the buzzer put Kentucky up 36-34 at the half, a huge momentum shift.

Quickley finished with 21 points off 7-17 from the floor, 4-8 from the three-point line, and 3-4 from the free-throw line. With both Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey struggling, Quickley and Richards were the offense, the only two Cats to score in double figures, a sharp contrast from recent games. With five seconds left in regulation, Quickley had a good look at a three to win the game, but missed. Cruelly, the ball almost went in on the second bounce, but in the same situation down the line, I still want it in Quickley’s hands. He earned every bit of that “Guns Up” mock gesture at the Texas Tech crowd on his way off the floor.

Tyrese Maxey had his second bad game in a row

For the second straight game, Tyrese Maxey struggled, scoring only 7 points (2-10 FG) in 40 minutes. He also five turnovers, three rebounds, three assists, and a block. Maxey is from Dallas, a five-hour drive from Lubbock, so maybe tonight’s performance can be chalked up to nerves over being so close to home. The freshman usually rises to occasions like this, but tonight, he cost Kentucky more than once, committing several big errors late in the game. You could argue that Kentucky hanging on for the win when Maxey went 2-10 from the floor says a lot about the team, but had Richards’ free throws not gone in and Texas Tech found a way to win, that’s a pretty empty argument.

Ashton Hagans’ defensive stop at the end was huge

Ashton Hagans wasn’t great either, but I’ll forgive him because his defense was huge. After Richards’ free throws put Kentucky ahead 76-74, Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti drove the ball towards the basket, where Hagans craftily reached in and tapped it out, forcing a turnover and giving Kentucky the ball with less than a second left.

Hagans finished with 6 points (2-6 FG, 0-0 3PT, 2-2 FT), 7 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal in 43 minutes. Again, not his best stat line, but his defense made up for it.

Kentucky almost blew a 10-point lead, again

While we’re nitpicking, we have to bring up the fact that Kentucky had a 10-point lead with 15 minutes left in the second half and an 8-point lead with 6:36 left and still let Texas Tech fight back. That’s frustrating, and will give John Calipari plenty to point to in the coming days to remind his team how lucky they were to get out with a win.

…If Kentucky had lost, I’d have a lot of words to write (and then probably delete) about officiating. Thankfully, PJ Washington did the dirty work for me:

Four huge stats

While looking through Kentucky’s notes, I found these stats telling:

  • Kentucky is 11-0 this season when Nick Richards has eight or more rebounds, 4-0 when he gets at least 20 points.
  • Immanuel Quickley is averaging 17.6 points over the last eight games, including 22 of 45 on 3-point shots.
  • Ashton Hagans extended his streak of five-or-more-assists to 16 straight games, the best streak since Tyler Ulis did it 24 straight games in 2015-16.
  • Kentucky turned the ball over 20 times to Texas Tech’s 13, leading to 25 Red Raiders points off turnovers.

How did we win that game??

This one is big for many reasons

Tonight’s win improves Kentucky’s record to 15-4, 4-1 in Quadrant 1 games. As of now, five more Quadrant 1 opportunities are on the table, the biggest of which is next Saturday’s game at Auburn.

So, in terms of resume, it’s big. Considering the events of the past 48 hours, it’s huge. Kahlil Whitney wouldn’t have won this game for Kentucky, but the distraction that came with his abrupt departure was undeniable. For the Cats to go into the craziest environment of the season and come out with a win — especially when two of their best players were struggling — is incredible.

Again, thank you, Nick.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

19 Comments for RECAP: Nick Richards leads Kentucky out of Lubbock with a win

  1. runningunnin.454
    10:32 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    ESPNU has the replay at midnight EST is case anyone missed it; and yes, Big Nick will sleep well tonight.

  2. wildcatfan20
    10:38 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    Great recap and what a tremendous time for Nick to come up big. After we watch Whitney quit on the team, we watch one of the most patient players in the Cal era come up huge in a big win!

    • Bluehender
      7:52 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

      Very nice ^^^..well said

  3. Game Changer
    10:43 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    You are really improving as a writer… nice recap.
    I also agree that Nick Richards improvement is astounding… I feel it was mainly an issue of confidence, which he was seriously lacking.
    I feel bad for Maxey… I feel the Michigan State game set him up for huge expectations… take away that game and kind of mediocre season for him!!
    What is truly amazing about this team is that its the first Calipari team that has more talent in its upperclassmen than its freshman… I like the freshmen as they all seem like very nice kids, but this has to be the weakest recruiting class by Cal and yet they could cut down the nets come March!!

    • BluemanGreen
      2:44 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

      That was definitely not his only good game. He took home player of the game against Louisville

    • Megan
      11:20 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

      Tyler’s been the best writer here for quite a while.

  4. CrystalBall
    10:50 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    The most physical abuse Nick has taken in any game this season. Some cheap shots.

  5. Aar
    10:57 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    IMHO, these Cats have 3 all-SEC players, one of them an All-American and potential NPOY and SEC defensive POY locked up by any of 4 players… …as long as they remain healthy and play out the year at their current level of play.

    • Aar
      11:01 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

      Oh, yeah. I predicted Nick Richards would be this good a season ago. He played close to this level for 90 seconds at a time last season. The difference is fitness!

      Now, I hope Cal gives him the green light for a few threes. It’ll make him a shoe-in for the NBA Draft Lottery and, maybe, a top 5 pick.

    • Bluehender
      7:56 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t think Cal will give him the green light on that. But I do think Nick is capable and will shoot them in the NBA..

  6. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    11:59 pm January 25, 2020 Permalink

    Those blocks are what this team has been missing in the tourney.

  7. J. Did
    12:32 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

    Nick continues to improve. I love it. Looking forward to E.J. Montgomery becoming the Warden. Get in shape. Run the floor. Good things happen to the best conditioned team. Great things. Outlet passes; lanes filled. Scores. Ability to press; Defense creates offense . where big games won.

    Also wanted to say; Sestina has 49 + days left. Get over the injury already. See a shrink; do whatever you have to and be aggressive again. Be aggressive. Don’t be a pansie. Your mind is your limitation. Do not sink into obscurity. Mix elbows, push people, DIVE for loose balls….GET BACK ON THAT HORSE AGAIN AND DRIVE…….it’s a Thoroughbred!

  8. pasimp44
    2:33 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

    What a poorly written article. Please hire an editor.

  9. 1stkatman
    9:46 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

    Ms. Thompson, This the best piece you’ve ever written, IMO. Keep up the fantastic work!
    Passionate, yet professional! Home-run.

  10. VirginiaCat
    11:46 am January 26, 2020 Permalink

    Sure, fitness is a factor. We have all heard the expression, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” It’s more than that, though. Richards has had more playing time this year because, frankly, we don’t have many other options. In the past, he was relegated to the bench when he made mistakes. This year he has been able to get the kinks out and the consistent playing time has worked wonders for his confidence and his performance. Whatever the reasons, his improvement could not come at a better time. Hats off to the young man.

  11. ukcamel
    12:05 pm January 26, 2020 Permalink

    The number of times Kentucky got called for traveling and charges, as compared to TT, means either they really need to work on not doing those things or the refs were awful (or maybe both).

  12. Jeffrey_M
    1:12 pm January 26, 2020 Permalink

    “…Richards is proof that Kentucky’s system also works for those who need extra time and are willing to put in the work…”

    I think this statement sums up everything great about playing at Kentucky and watching Kentucky basketball. I think some kids are hard on themselves and are maybe disappointed that they’re not a “one-and-done.” But it’s a fact of life: People are different, and mature in their skill levels at different times. Our freshman players need to remember that IT’S OKAY IF YOU DON’T PEAK DURING YOUR FRESHMAN YEAR. Aim high, but not so high that that you feel like giving up. There’s a balance. Patients is a virtue. Not all players can be a one-and-done, some may be a two-and-done, some three, some four. Nick is living proof of this. And so is Quickley. Neither are the players they were a year ago. I remember when Nick couldn’t buy a bucket at the charity stripe. But now look at him. “I got this,” he tells Emmanuel when the game was on the line. Wow! Confidence is everything. I also believe that it can be contagious. At least I hope so. But whatever the case, Nick Richards is a shining example to everyone who wears the BLUE, or ever will wear it.

    Awesome win. GO CATS!