Kentucky Basketball: Nick Richards, Wildcats Outlast Texas Tech

LUBBOCK, TEXAS – JANUARY 25: Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats exits the locker room along with associate head coach Kenny Payne and assistant coach Joel Justus before the college basketball game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at United Supermarkets Arena on January 25, 2020 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

Kentucky Basketball went into Lubbock, Texas as an underdog to take on Texas Tech. The Cats left with a victory, ending Tech’s 54-game home winning streak versus non-conference opponents.

My wife grew up in Carter County, Kentucky, smack in the middle of Big Blue Nation- where cheering on Kentucky Basketball is a birthright.

When she breaks out her “I Still Hate Laettner” t-shirt, you know Kentucky Basketball is playing a big game. She proudly laid out her big-game shirt,  much the same way that the equipment managers laid out Kentucky Basketball’s white uniforms for their matchup in Lubbock.

John Calipari and his Cats went into United Supermarkets Arena, where non-conference opponents hadn’t managed a victory over Texas Tech since 2013.

This game was huge, especially for Red Raider fans. My wife and I lived in Texas for over a decade; we know how big sporting events are treated in the Lone Star State. The tailgating is just a little more grand. The students are just a little more creative in their signs and their in-arena distractions. And the crowds – well they don’t say everythin’ is bigger in Texas for nothing – are just a little bit bigger.

It is no surprise that tickets for this match-up were re-selling for nearly $400, on average. It is, also, no surprise that the game was a sell-out; one of many raucous road crowds for Kentucky Basketball.

“Did you hear?”, my wife said to me as she looked up from her cellphone while relaxing in her recliner a couple of hours before the game, “It is free beer night for Tech students.”

Big games mean you pull out all of the stops!

Kentucky Basketball rose to the challenge of being the marquee game in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, outlasting Texas Tech 76-74 in overtime.

 

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – JANUARY 11: Nick Richards #4 of the Kentucky Wildcats against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Rupp Arena on January 11, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Nick Richards continues to lead the way for Kentucky Basketball.

Nick Richards dominated the much smaller Texas Tech frontcourt. He led the Cats, scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 boards, and blocking 4 shots. The hostile environment didn’t faze Richards; in fact, it seemed to energize him throughout the game. It was Richards who sealed the game for Kentucky Basketball, hitting a pair of game-winning free throws.

This performance seems to put Richards firmly in the conversation for Player of the Year in the SEC.

With the wide-open nature of this college basketball season, it isn’t out of the question to think that a performance like this may, even, put Richards in the conversation for Naismith Player of the Year. The midseason candidates are announced on February 13, and Richards numbers merit consideration as he leads Kentucky Basketball in points per game (14.3), rebounds per game (8.1) and blocked shots per game (2.5).

 

LUBBOCK, TEXAS – JANUARY 25: Guard Immanuel Quickley #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats gestures to the crowd after the college basketball game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on January 25, 2020 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

 

Immanuel Quickley reignited his hot hand from behind the arch – hitting a half-court buzzer-beater before halftime

Immanuel Quickley put the poor shooting performances of his last couple of games behind him. He had the play of the night, hitting this 3 pointer from half-court right before halftime, sending the Cats to the locker room with a 2 point lead and momentum.

Quickley finished with 21 points, shooting 4-8 from three. Quickley, also, was a part of Kentucky’s stifling defensive effort on the perimeter that held Texas Tech to 3-19 from three, a paltry 15.8%.

 

LUBBOCK, TEXAS – JANUARY 25: Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats yells to his team during the second half of the college basketball game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at United Supermarkets Arena on January 25, 2020 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

 

There were a lot of positive contributions all over the court for Kentucky Basketball.

Ashton Hagans continues to be a nightmare on defense for opposing point guards. As the unquestioned leader for Kentucky Basketball, Hagans had 3 steals and pestered Texas Tech ball handlers all game long. Hagans was well below his scoring average, contributing 6 points. However, he was a playmaker for the Cats, however, leading the way with 7 assists.

Nate Sestina had his best game since the loss at South Carolina, going 2-4 from behind the three-point arch for Kentucky Basketball. He led the reserves with 8 points.

Johnny Juzang chipped in 5 points off the bench, going 1-2 from three. And while E.J. Montgomery was up and down during this contest, he had a key defensive stop in overtime, forcing a poor shot from Tech, leading to a foul on Nick Richardsresulting in game-winning free throws.

 

LUBBOCK, TEXAS – JANUARY 25: Forward Nick Richards #4 (far left) and guard Johnny Juzang #10 (far right) of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrate after the college basketball game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at United Supermarkets Arena on January 25, 2020 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

The Cats have to take better care of the ball. Also, Kentucky Basketball will need Tyrese Maxey to play better to do damage in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.

Texas Tech is known for its strong defensive efforts, and their defense was tough against Kentucky Basketball. The Cats turned the ball over 20 times, with the trio of primary ball handlers in Hagans (4), Quickley (6), and Tyrese Maxey (5) contributing 15 of those.

Maxey has shown himself to rise to the occasion in big moments for Kentucky Basketball. He did not have one of his signature performances versus the Red Raiders. Maxey shot 2-10 for 7 points, well below his 13 points per game average.

With these negatives, not to mention blowing multiple double-digit leads in the second half, Kentucky Basketball managed to win their third game in a row, and get their seventh victory in their last eight games improving to 15-4 on the season (5-1 in the SEC).

Kentucky Basketball was able to overcome questionable officiating, another electric road environment, and a hard-nosed team to pull out another victory. The Cats seem to be clicking at the right time as they head into the meat of their SEC schedule.

Kentucky Basketball continues its SEC season against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, 1/29, at Rupp Arena.