The amazing transformation of Nick Richards continues.
The Kentucky junior forward scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead No. 15 Kentucky to a 76-74 win over 18th-ranked Texas Tech Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in Lubbock, Texas.
Richards scored the first five points in overtime to give Kentucky a 69-64 lead and drained a pair of free throws with 10.3 seconds remaining to seal the deal for the Wildcats, who have won three straight in the yearly challenge.
“We needed the free throws to help us win the game,” Richards said.”I missed three (during the game) but Immanuel (Quickley) and Ashton (Hagans) came up to me and said I (was) good. … Immanuel told me to just take my time and just knock them down.”
Although Richards missed three free throws on his previous 12 attempts, it was teammate Quickley who gave Richards encouragement in the closing seconds.
“We have no chance of winning without Nick,” Quickley said. “What he did for us — rebounding the ball, scoring in the paint, when needed it and 25 (points) and 14 (rebounds) and four blocks. There are not too many big men in the country doing that and so what he brought (the game) was real big.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari agreed and said his junior forward’s performance in a hostile environment was “unbelievable.”
“I kissed Nick on the forehead and I said, there are about three of you in this room who need to do this, but I will do it for you,” he said. “I kissed him on the forehead.”
Kentucky (15-4, 5-1) improved to 5-0 overall against the Red Raiders and ended the hosts’ 54 home-game winning streak against non-conference opponents. The contest marked the Wildcats’ first visit to Lubbock since the 1965-66 season.
For Richards, the performance marked the eighth-straight game he’s tallied double figures and the the eighth time he’s recorded a double-double this year. Richards also had four of the team’s six blocked shots.
Quickley followed Richards with 21 points and knocked down four of Kentucky’s seven shots from long range. Quickley swished a half-court heave at the buzzer to end the first half that gave the Wildcats a 36-34 lead at the break. Quickley’s three in the corner at the end of regulation just missed the mark.
Kentucky led by 10 twice in the second half before Texas Tech (12-7, 3-3) rallied down the stretch to end the game into overtime. The Wildcats have won two overtime games this season, including a 78-70 triumph over rival Louisville on Dec, 28 at Rupp Arena.
“It was a great game,” Calipari said. We had a lot of happy guys in the locker room.”
Calipari said he was caught off guard by Kahlil Whitney’s decision to leave the program on Friday. The Kentucky coach wished the freshman forward well in his future endeavors and said he’s a “great kid.”
“I stay up nights trying to figure out how I get guys to play better,” he said. “Not how my team plays better. What do we do defensively that we can help people? Are there plays that we can run to get somebody going? What would that be? I stay up nights (and) I want every kid to make it, but there are times kids think it’s not here (at Kentucky).
“We haven’t had many (leave) — four or five kids. I get disappointed as much at myself (because) I wasn’t able to help him breakthrough. I told him (I would be there for him). … I was a little bit surprised, but again, its not my life, it’s their life and they’re 18- and 19-years-old.”
Gametracker: Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.