A lot of talk about last night’s 79-76 win over LSU has centered around Immanuel Quickley and Nate Sestina — and rightfully so — but it couldn’t have happened without Nick Richards. Once again, the junior big man was a force down low, finishing with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 blocks, just one shy of his career high.
Afterwards, Will Wade said the Tigers had no answer for Richards inside.
“Killed us. Killed us to me. We talked all week about playing off two and showing Richards the ball and we just go in there and throw the ball off the backboard.”
Wade did some quick math at the podium, concluding that LSU’s frontcourt of Emmitt Williams, Darius Days, and Trendon Watford was a combined 9-33, proof of Richards’ ability to not only block, but alter shots, as well as take charges.
“Not gonna get it done. Not gonna get it done. Richards totally controlled the game defensively. He’s as good as there is in the league in getting in the charge circle with the shields. He’s gotten in great shape, his body looks great. We just couldn’t finish over him.”
LSU guard Skylar Mays agreed.
“We haven’t seen a rim protector as good as Nick Richards. He did a great job of controlling the paint and it made it tough for us. That’s kind of our bread and butter, and he definitely made it a lot harder for us today.”
Sestina said he knows from practice that going up against Richards in the lane is straight up “intimidating.”
“For any team driving into the paint — we have really good defenders that are guards, so if you get by our guards and you go in for a layup thinking you have an uncontested layup, you have a seven-foot center with a 40-inch vert coming at you too. He’s really good at walling up too. He’s not always just blocking stuff. A lot of times he’ll jump straight up and you’re putting it straight into his arms and he’ll just grab it. But it’s really intimidating. It’s intimidating in practice when you’re trying to go up for a layup in practice and he throws it off the wall. I think for any guard going in it’s an intimidating thing.”
So far this season, Richards averaging 2.3 blocks per game, well above his average of 1.3 last year. He’s also connecting on 65.9% of his baskets, which is on pace to finish in the top three on Kentucky’s all-time list.
“I always say, if you have no post presence, your team is a fraud,” Calipari said last night. “And that doesn’t mean the guy has to be seven foot, but you have to have someone in there who can do something both ways. Scoring, dunking, something. Also, making them shoot more jumpers than driving layups.”