The Kentucky Wildcats won their SEC opener today by taking down the Missouri Tigers 71-59. Immanuel Quickley led the way with an impressive 23 points. Nick Richards was a monster all day, putting up 21 points and 12 rebounds.
It was a struggle early, but once the Wildcats captured the lead midway through the first half they never looked back. It was an impressive win against a stingy Missouri defense, showing the Wildcats can grind out a victory in a mucked-up game.
Getting this win after an emotional game against Louisville last week is promising, but it may have come at a cost.
Here are five things to know about the game.
Prayers for Ashton
Ashton Hagans left the game with just over a minute remaining with a significant limp. After sitting on the bench for a few seconds, he made his way to the locker room. It was difficult to tell what exactly happened to his leg, but it certainly did not look great. The announces speculated it could be some kind of Achilles injury.
Ashton Hagans injury to the back of his lower leg. pic.twitter.com/j0FenMoyCR— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 4, 2020
Hagans finished the game with 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. He is vital to this team’s success, so his health should be a big concern for all of Big Blue Nation.
NBA Nick Richards
Nick Richards balled out against Louisville last week, especially in overtime. He picked up right where he left off against Missouri today. Richards scored Kentucky’s first nine points of the game and finished the first half with 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. That is a great stat line for a game, let alone a half.
Richards was strong throughout the game, finishing with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks for his second double-double in a row before fouling out. And you have to love the fight he took to Jeremiah Tilmon in the post all day, even if he did draw a technical foul.
Richards is emerging as the player all of Big Blue Nation wanted him to be from the beginning, and if he continues to be that guy it would pay dividends for the Wildcats in March.
Quickley the Sniper
Kentucky’s shooting woes continued in their SEC opener, aside from Immanuel Quickley. The sophomore shot 4 for 8 from deep, with several of those shots ending runs by Missouri. He was also perfect once again from the free throw line, scoring 21 points in a very impressive outing.
While his three-point shooting numbers are not overwhelming on the season, Quickley has become undeniably the Wildcats’ most reliable shooter. You have to think that if they need a three down the stretch during SEC play, Quickley’s number will be called.
Tyrese Maxey has become the type of player that finds other ways to contribute when not putting points on the board, which is great. But for this team, his primary role has to be scoring the basketball.
Maxey settled for way too many long shots against Missouri. He seems to be at his best when he is flying around, driving to the basket and finding ways to finish. Yes, he can get hot from the outside. But his shooting efficiency is often a result of the confidence he builds from scoring on drives.
Scoring 8 points may work out okay for Kentucky against lower-tier SEC teams when Nick Richards transformers into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But come tournament time, he is going to have to find a way to play like the “bright lights” Maxey we saw in Madison Square Garden and against Louisville last week.
Free Throws, Man
Normally we only talk about free throw percentages when they are hurting a team. But for these Kentucky Wildcats, they continue to excel from the charity stripe. You have to feel good about Kentucky’s chances in any close game with their ability, throughout the lineup, to make free throws consistently.
In their first SEC game, the Wildcats hit 27 of 30 from the free throw line for 90%. Conversely, Missouri only made 64.7% of their free throws. That’ll win you games any day of the week.
Kentucky will be back in action on Tuesday against a Georgia Bulldogs team that just took down Memphis. We would have more analysis on that game coming here on A Sea of Blue. But for now, let’s talk about the win!