With multiple injuries, a shocking home loss to Evansville and sagging attendance, the Kentucky Wildcats were in desperate need of a shot of adrenalin when Mount St. Mary’s visited Rupp Arena on Friday night.
Fortunately, the dynamic duo of Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards were ready to pump new life into the largest home crowd of the season with a combined 35 points as the Wildcats rolled to a 82-62 win to build some much-needed momentum.
Richards simply went on a dunking spree against the undersized Mountaineers, finishing with 19 points and six rebounds. Hagans was spectacular on both ends of the floor and finished with 16 points, seven assists and a team-leading seven rebounds.
After struggling with St. Mary’s 1-3-1 zone defense in the first half, the Cats opened things up after the break with its best shooting night of the season, shooting 54.5 from the field on high percentage shots and connecting on 6-of-15 from three-point range (40%).
Immanuel Quickley, returning from a bruised sternum, found his stroke in the second half and connected on two three-point baskets sandwiched in between a lob dunk from Tyrese Maxey to Kahlil Whitney to keep St. Mary’s on its heels. Quickley finished with 13 points, while Maxey chipped in with 11.
EJ Montgomery also returned to action on Friday night after missing three games with an ankle injury and finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Kentucky finished 16-of-18 from the free throw line and is currently shooting 80.1% from the charity stripe this season.
Kentucky’s first six points of the game set the tone for the UK offense with three thunderous dunks, including an open court slam by Richards to start the game and two alley-oops - one to Richards and the other to Kahlil Whitney to get the UK fans quickly on their feet.
It just so happens that Hagans was the trigger man on each as the sophomore point guard got credit for all three assists and was the glue for the Cats against a pesky Mount St. Mary’s team that gave UK fits in a 1-3-1 zone defense.
While Richards continues to get better with each game, Hagans is the straw the stirs the drink for the Kentucky offense and was clearly tonight’s MVP. In fact, St. Mary’s 1-3-1 zone defense was a new look for the Cats who could have easily pushed the panic button, taking bad shots and forcing the action.
Hagans simply didn’t let that happen as the veteran floor leader played the role of quarterback, finding gaps and hitting open teammates for some much-needed confidence on the offensive end.
Kentucky, 4-1, plays Lamar at 6:00 pm on Sunday at Rupp Arena.