Kentucky’s first game at Rupp Arena to start the new decade was rather sluggish to say the least.
The Wildcats opened up with rather careless basketball against the Missouri Tigers, a team that didn’t have the best resume entering Saturday’s contest. Thanks to Nick Richards scoring nine points early on, the Wildcats did manage to stay within striking distance. Then, a 10-0 run that started at the 10-minute mark pulled Kentucky ahead as they entered the break with a 31-26 lead.
Coming out of halftime, Kentucky stayed in volume behind Immanuel Quickley. For the second straight game, his efficient shooting off the bench (especially from behind the arc) was timely to keep Kentucky in front. With 10 minutes to go in regulation, the Wildcats obtained their largest lead of the game by a score of 50-36. At the 3:51 mark, Richards picked up his fifth and final foul with his team up 62-50.
As Richards went out, the lane opened up for Missouri to get to the basket. While the Tigers attempted their comeback, Kentucky remained poised and finished out the game efficiently to win 71-59.
Quickley led the team in scoring with 23 points on 5-9 shooting (including 9-9 from the free throw line), continuing to carry a massive load off the bench. Richards tied a season-high of 21 points on 9-13 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots in 29 minutes. With the win, the Wildcats move to 10-3 on the season and will next suit up on Tuesday for their first road game of SEC play at Georgia. Tip-off is set for 9 pm EST.
As mentioned before, Immanuel Quickley’s scoring off the bench has been a significant boost for Kentucky’s offense as well as their defense. By shots actually going through the hoop, the Wildcats aren’t having to defend as many fast break possessions.
However, Nick Richards has also been sensational in leading the Wildcats at both ends of the floor. His communication on defense (as well as tree-like build defending the basket) are a true disruption for even the best athletes Kentucky faces. The junior’s ability to knock down jump shots, consistently score from the low post as well as run the floor have also been the focal point of Kentucky’s offense.
Just like no one predicted, Nick Richards has been the team’s MVP and was so once again on Saturday.