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:
College refs really are garbage
— Paul Washington Jr (@PJWashington) January 26, 2020
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.