Nick Richards: A Tale of Two Halves in Wildcats Victory over Vanderbilt

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – JANUARY 29: Nick Richards #4 of the Kentucky Wildcats dunks the ball against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Rupp Arena on January 29, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kentucky rides SEC Player of the Year candidate, Nick Richards, in a comeback victory over Vanderbilt 71-62.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

When Charles Dickens wrote his classic, A Tale of Two Cities, I highly doubt that he had athletics on his mind (well, we can be assured he had the French Revolution on his mind). He knew nothing of Nick Richards, protagonist of Kentucky’s comeback story versus Vanderbilt.

Yet that line seems quite fitting- with some minor modifications.

It was the worst of halves, it was the best of halves…

Nick Richards continued to showcase his abilities, impacting all aspects of the game in Wednesday’s 71-62 victory over the Commodores at Rupp Arena.

Don’t be late to the party, Wildcat Blue Nation. Nick Richards is a frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year and is in the conversation for Naismith Player of the Year. This performance was a tell-tale example of the junior’s new reality.

 

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – JANUARY 29: John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to the team against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Rupp Arena on January 29, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Our story begins with the hero in peril – Nick Richards picked up two fouls within the first three and a half minutes of the game. John Calipari was forced to sit his All-American candidate for the majority of the first half.

The offense stalled. The defense struggled. All seemed lost for our beloved Wildcats.

Vanderbilt took a seven-point lead into the halftime locker room. Kentucky came into this game a 20.5 point favorite against Vandy, a team that came into this game losing their last 24 SEC regular-season games.

I overheard the rumblings at Rupp Arena as folks in the Lower Level, Section W, harkened back to losses of yore.

“We play to our competition, that’s our problem!”

 

Evansville is worse than these guys, and we lost to them!”

 

“Vandy wants it more than we do!”

Things looked bleak for our hero, but that is why they play two halves of basketball.

Nick Richards arose from the ashes of the first half. Our fearless hero dominated the paint, catching second-half lob passes and cleaning the glass. Nick Richards secured his 9th double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds…IN THE SECOND HALF, ALONE!!!

In total our hero, Nick Richards, shot 7-11 from the field and totaled 15 and 11 boards, bringing Rupp Arena back to life in the second half in a win that ensured 25 consecutive SEC regular-season losses for Vanderbilt.

Nick Richards shined, however other Cats impressed with their performances.

 

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – JANUARY 11: EJ Montgomery #23 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball in the 76-67 win against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Rupp Arena on January 11, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tyrese Maxey and E.J. Montgomery both had several significant moments to help the Cats secure the comeback.

Maxey led Kentucky Basketball with 17 points, going 5-10 from the field and 2-3 from behind the arch. Maxey struggled in his last couple of games vs. Texas Tech and Georgia. This victory was a nice bounce-back for the Freshman from the Lone Star State.

E.J. had to handle the majority of time in the post in the first half with Nick Richards in foul trouble. While his stat line of 9 points and 4 rebounds may not jump off the page, Montgomery helped to steady the ship defensively, and he shot 4-5 from the field.

 

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – JANUARY 29: Ashton Hagans #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Rupp Arena on January 29, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

This was not a banner night for our veteran backcourt of Hagans and Quickley.

Ashton Hagans continues to be one of the best assist-men in the country, dishing out 6 dimes. However, his five turnovers cannot be overlooked. Hagans is averaging 4 turnovers per game in his last 3 outings, which does not include his 5 turnover performance in the South Carolina loss.

On the positive, Hagans, also, had 12 points and 2 steals.

Immanuel Quickley has been a roller coaster in his last five outings – and not like the good kind where you have the awesome picture at the end; it’s more like that old, rickety wooden coaster that your buddy chipped his tooth on a couple of summers ago and made your girlfriend puke after getting off of it.

Quickley shot 3-13, missing both of his three-point attempts while scoring 11 points. Quickley did shake the turnover bug from the last game, however, as he was flawless in this category.

The Cats improved to 16-4, 6-1 in the SEC. Vandy dropped to 8-12 and are still seeking their first conference win after seven tries.

Nick Richards and the Kentucky Wildcats head to Auburn to take on the Tigers in a huge road showcase at 6 PM.