The marquee game for Saturday’s Big 12-SEC Challenge featured a heavyweight fight between the No. 15-ranked Kentucky Wildcats and the No. 18-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock, Texas.
This came just one day after Kentucky learned Kahlil Whitney was transferring. The highly-touted freshman was struggling to find his role on this team, but so too were EJ Montgomery and Johnny Juzang earlier this season. There was hope Whitney could follow their lead and eventually become a solid role player, but alas, he decided it was time to move on.
Aa for the game, it would take 45 minutes to decide a winner. In the end, Kentucky’s Nick Richards proved to be the last man standing as the Wildcats won a 76-74 slugfest in overtime in front of a raucous crowd at United Supermarkets Arena. Richards finished with his eighth double-double of the season with 25 points and 14 rebounds and hit two clutch free throws with 10.3 left in overtime that proved to be the game winner. Immanuel Quickley added 21 points, including four three-point goals to lead the Cats to its 15th win of the season.
Kentucky, 15-4 (6-1 in the SEC), took a 36-34 halftime lead after Quickly hit a buzzer-beater from the half court line. Those good vibes continued in the second half as the Cats went on a 13-2 run that included three made free throws, a Quickly three-pointer, a jumper from Nate Sestina and a dunk from Richards to push the lead to 46-38. Tyrese Maxey then connected on two free throws to give the Wildcats its biggest lead of the game (48-38) with 16:17 remaining.
The Red Raiders would battle back to cut the lead to 62-59 before Richards was called for goal tending that cut the lead to just one at 62-61 with 3:06 remaining. Texas Tech ultimately tied the game at 63-63 on two free throws at the 2:40 mark.
The Wildcats then went four possessions without scoring before Richards made one of two free throws with 28.7 left on the clock to give the Wildcats a 64-63 advantage. A Texas Tech free throw tied the game at 64-all with 18.4 remaining and Quickly’s three-point attempt was off the mark to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Wildcats drew first blood as Richards made two free throws to move ahead 66-64. After a Quickley blocked shot on the defensive end, Hagans found Richards for an easy basket that resulted in a conventional three-point play to push the lead to 69-64 on the made free throw. After a Texas Tech basket, Sestina drilled a three to give Kentucky a 72-66 lead with 3:18 left in overtime before the Red Raiders would go on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 72-72 with 1:13 remaining.
Two free throws from Quickley and a basket by Texas Tech tied the game at 74-74. Richards would then hit the game-winning free throws after fighting for a rebound and Tech’s Davide Moretti was stripped in the lane by Ashton Hagans, losing the ball out of bounds to disrupt the game’s final possession.
The win breaks Texas Tech’s streak of 54 consecutive non-conference home wins that started back in 2013. The Wildcats return home to face Vanderbilt on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.
After the game, UK Coach John Calipari and select players talked with the media to discuss another key road win in conference play. It also included some thoughts on Whitney’s decision to leave the team.
“I stay up nights trying to figure out how to get guys to play better,” Calipari said after the game. “Not how my team plays better, how do I get guys to play better? What do we do defensively that can help certain people? Are there plays we can run to get somebody going?
“Before he left, he had tears, I had tears. I hugged him and I just said, ‘You make it. Make it. If you’re going to do this, you make it.’
Here is a recap of their press conferences, courtesy of UK Athletics.