Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans was in a giving mood on Friday night as the sophomore point guard finished with a career-high 12 assists to lead a balanced offense to 69-58 win over UAB at Rupp Arena.
But the real story of the night was the play of UK’s big men as Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery combined for 32 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks to create a formidable one-two punch inside as the Cats closed out a rocky November that included a win over the No 1-ranked team in the nation and a loss to unranked Evansville. Both Richards and Montgomery finished with 16 points each with nine and eight rebounds, respectively.
Hagans finished with nine points and two steals, while Immanuel Quickley also added nine points and four rebounds. The single-season record for most assists in a single game belongs to John Wall who had 16 during the 2010 season.
No. 9-ranked Kentucky now enters a tough December schedule that includes games against No. 10-ranked Ohio State and Louisville, who will soon be crowned the No. 1-ranked team in college basketball. The Wildcats, 6-1, return to action on December 7th at home against Fairleigh Dickinson.
At first glance, Hagans seems like the obvious choice for MVP honors. However, Nick Richards has simply gone into beast mode over the past four games, averaging 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. He is currently shooting 67.2% from the field, including tonight’s perfect 7-for-7 performance.
Richards, a 6-foot-11 junior, has always been a great athlete that can run the floor and block shots. However on Friday night he was simply the best player on the floor other than Hagans, rattling the rim with numerous dunks, knocking down short jumpers and showing off his baseline shooting touch. He’s also shown great strides defensively, taking a charge on Friday night and showing more fight for 50/50 balls.
Montgomery, who recently returned to action from an ankle injury, had one of his best games in a Wildcat uniform. The sophomore lefty looked more comfortable on the offensive end, scoring with both hands and showing more confidence from the perimeter. In the absence of Nate Sestina, the Cats will need Richards and Montgomery both to step up and take care of business in the post against ranked teams.