It’s been a brutal fall for Nick Richards.
The starting center early this season, Richards has now fallen so far behind that he didn’t log single first-half minute vs. UNC Greensboro. He ultimately played just one minute in what turned into a 78-61 Kentucky win.
However, the game was far closer than the final score indicated. The Spartans actually led for much of the game before a strong finish by Reid Travis and Tyler Herro helped the Wildcats finish on a 28-12 run.
Another key player in that run was Ashton Hagans, whose defense was a game-changer. Defense is something Quade Green will probably never be known for, and he ended up playing just eight minutes in this one.
The emergence of Hagans has led to Green seeing less playing time over the last two games, as he’s spent a lot of time with his fellow sophomore on the bench.
So, what is it going to take for Richards and Green to see the floor more?
It’s actually pretty simple.
After the game, John Calipari pointed out ‘fight’ as something guys on the bench must show more of to get in the game.
“Basically what I did is I went with the seven guys who were really going pretty good. I just said, we’re playing seven. That’s kind of like old-school stuff. But whoever was really competing and fighting, that’s who I left in the game. Then I don’t -- listen, I don’t have to coach that now. Now I can coach basketball.”
It’s becoming clear that Green’s offense is no longer going to keep him on the floor. He’s giving the team nothing as a defender and has just eight assists vs. 12 turnovers over his last four games.
Calipari went into more detail about why Richards was saddled on the bench in this one. Part of it is he’s simply the fourth-best big man right now. Part of it is he’s got to fight harder if he’s going to get back on the floor.
“I’m playing three bigs right now, and if the three bigs are all playing well, I’m just going to leave them there,” said Calipari. “You know, we’ll have practice this week. If Nick steps up and he steps in front of one of those guys, one of those other guys won’t play. If there’s foul trouble, be ready. If there’s -- we go with you, be ready. He went in and blocked a shot, and I just decided, you know what, this game is too tight. I’m not going to mess with it now.”
At the end of the day, Kentucky played its best game of the season against an NCAA Tournament-level team with Green and Richards effectively playing no role in it. That needs to be a serious wake-up call for both players that it’s time to step up or get used to the bench.