After last week’s epic win against Louisville most people knew that the risk of the Cats coming out flat against Missouri was high. That is exactly what happened in front of a great crowd on Saturday in Rupp Arena.
Despite a double-digit victory the storyline unfortunately turned to the ankle injury that Ashton Hagans suffered late in the second half, which could cost him some time. Immanuel Quickley also required an x-ray on his hand per Coach Calipari.
As far as the game goes, it was an ugly first 12 minutes as Kentucky struggled tremendously to put the ball in the basket. Without the early dominance Nick Richards things could have gotten out of hand.
But man oh man did Richards have himself one heck of a first half. The junior center is emerging as a player who could hear his name called in June’s NBA Draft.
In the first 20 minutes Richards tallied 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Those stats went along with altering a number of other shots in the paint. His clutch performance last week against Louisville clearly carried over to the Cats conference opener. If he can keep this type of production up, it totally changes the make up of this team and can nullify mistakes from others. The big mans final stat line was a monster one, 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
Despite the monumental play of Richards it’s obvious that John Calipari is still searching for a line-up where points come easy. At times, UK is still laboring to manufacture good looks at the rim. At one point in the first half Richards had taken 8 of UK’s 11 field goal attempts. It was sloppy but Kentucky was able to take a five point lead into halftime.
Things got on track in half number two as UK was able to build a 13 point lead by the under 12 minute time out. Besides Richards another bright spot for UK was the play of Immanuel Quickley. He was draining threes and also had an impressive driving lay-up that resulted in an and-1 that gave the Cats some major momentum to finish out the game.
Quickley would finish the game with 23 points, 4 made threes, and a perfect 9 for 9 from the free throw line.
Kentucky is now 1-0 on conference play but there are some lingering issues that appear to have no immediate solve right now. Not only was Johnny Juzang out on Saturday with an illness, but Kahlil Whitney and EJ Montgomery were both virtually no-shows. Coach Cal has to figure out a way to get those guys going if his team is going to be the best version of themselves.
Here is what John Calipari and his players had to say after the game via UK Athletics:
Q. Cal, the obvious question, good win for you guys, great stuff from Nick (Richards) and Immanuel (Quickley), but everybody is wondering what’s up with Ashton (Hagans)? What’s his status?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s an ankle. I had one fear. What do you think my fear was for him?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, that was my fear. Forget about our team. For him, his game and how he plays, it’s not his Achilles. He said it’s a low ankle sprain. You know high ankle sprains take like two weeks. A low ankle sprain takes 18 hours. So, he’ll be fine. (Laughter).
Q. John, two consecutive good performances by Nick (Richards). Are you ever comfortable with saying a player has punched through and this is who they are from now on?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, here’s the problem. Why would you get in a back and forth with another player when you’re playing that well? So, he hasn’t come through all the way. Like you have to really look at it and say, why would I go on a back and forth? I’m playing out of my mind -- rebounding every ball, making shots, making jump shots, making free-throws, making jump hooks, a big rebound stick back that he got. I mean, I’m proud of him, but, again, now it’s time to -- he’s never been this guy.
So if I’m watching our game and I’m a coach of another team, would you stick in a bad player and say grab his shorts, push him a little bit? Wouldn’t you? You’d put in a bad player and push him and shove him, and he pushes back and double technicals, and all of a sudden, he’ll get out of the game. He doesn’t have the composure because he’s never been this guy. Now he’s this guy, you have a different responsibility. But he did great. I’m proud of him.
Q. John, I understand Johnny (Juzang) was ill today.
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah.
Q. Your rotation seems to be getting shorter as it is. What do you see as his role, and when is he going to be back?
JOHN CALIPARI: Whose?
Q. Johnny Juzang.
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s got to get healthy first. He hasn’t been in practice. We kind of separated him from the team because he had a virus. We just said, you know. So, he’s in one of the rooms in the lodge but off by himself.
Ellen (Calipari) made him vegan cookies last night, and I brought them over and slid them under the door.
Q. So, do you still anticipate him playing a significant role down the stretch here?
JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know. We’ve got to get him healthy and get him on the court. We’re still -- look, Kahlil (Whitney), Keion (Brooks), and even E.J. (Montgomery), they’ve got to play better. Part of that is just be rougher. You can’t have your offense tied or your emotions tied to your offense. You miss a shot, you miss a dunk, so what? Don’t have it affect you down the other end because then -- you won’t believe this -- we’re trying to win. So, if you do this and do that and do this and that, we’re trying to win. I can’t let the game change.
I love all these guys. I’m saying that Immanuel played great. I thought Tyrese (Maxey) was shaky. Again, his offense was shaky, which meant he emotionally wasn’t the same as he was the other night. All these young kids, their offense gets their emotions either up or down. You can’t be that guy because then you’re like this the whole season.
You’ve got to be, whether I make it -- how about a guy passes me up, I had three shots, and I didn’t get them? So what? I’m going to go get an offensive rebound. I’m going to go block the ball. I’m going to go make a rough play and come up with -- I’m going to dive. Or how about this? Crazy thought. I’m going to take a charge. I’m going to do something to help my team. We’re not there yet.
Q. Cal, there is so much about the way that happened with Ashton (Hagans) that looked like Achilles. Obviously, you were worried about it. What flashes through your mind as you’re in the uncertainty before you know?
JOHN CALIPARI: When I walked off the court, they had me on the TV, and I was trying to get off the TV because I wanted to go back and make sure, but when they told me it wasn’t that, okay, we can deal with whatever else it is. Again, maybe he’s out. Maybe he doesn’t play against Georgia. Then you’re all going to see the impact and the importance he has on this team. His will drags these guys.
Now he’s not in there. Okay. You want to say this guy’s really good or that guy’s really good? All right. He’s not in there now.
Q. In that way, whether it’s short or long term, how important is it for a guy like Immanuel (Quickley) to do what he’s done the last two games? Regardless, but especially in case Ashton (Hagans) misses time.
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s guarding better. He’s rebounding better. He hurt his hand, he said. So, he had to have an X-Ray on his hand, I think.
Q. What does Kahlil (Whitney) need to show you in practice to earn more minutes?
JOHN CALIPARI: Just defense and rebounding, and I keep coming back to the same thing. If you’re defending and rebounding, we can leave you in the game. He’s just got to get a better feel for it. It’s all new to him. Keion’s (Brooks) the same way. I mean, at one point, the shot went up. Kid muscled him, grabbed it, stuck it back in, and he said he pushed me. Wrong answer. Out. I can’t leave him in. He pushed you? Push him back. You’ve got to fight.
Look, again, when you’re in high school, you’re going to get 25 shots. So, you go and miss your first 12. Then you make five in a row, make a couple, and you go 7 for 25, and you’re fine. You go home. Everybody’s happy. That’s not how it is now. We don’t have anybody getting more than 14, 15 shots. So, when you have opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them.
And that’s like even today. The most anybody shot was Nick Richards at 13 and probably should have shot a few more, would you say? Then everybody else shot 10, 9 -- that’s it -- 5, 4. That’s who we are here. That’s why, if you defend and rebound, make easy plays -- like he and Keion (Brooks) are finishers. They’re not place starters. The place starters are Tyrese (Maxey), Ashton (Hagans), and Immanuel (Quickley). Those two finish, make baskets. We’ll throw to you, make a basket. One dribble pull-up. You don’t have a basket, pitch, cut, bang, we’ll come back to you, make shots, make baskets.
But they’re learning. This is a process. He had a great workout in the gym today, this morning. It was a voluntary workout today, so they could come in from 9:00 to 9:30 on their own. So, Kahlil (Whitney) came in, and Nate (Sestina) came in. The other guys came at 9:30, and we walked through. The game was too early, 2:00 game. And he had a great workout.
Let me just say this. You do that every day, it may not change things for a week or two weeks or three weeks or a month. It may take two months. It may take three months. But you can’t get away from what it takes to master my craft. What do I want to do in the game? Then you’ve got to be able to master that. So that when I do it in the game, I can do it. I’m not turning it over. I’m not -- I know it.
The point of being able to stay in the game -- and I’m telling all of them. Last game we played Louisville, what did I tell my team? Whoever could guard who? Which guy?
Q. (Jordan) Nwora.
JOHN CALIPARI: Whoever could guard (Jordan) Nwora was staying in the game. Those two had their chances. The guy that went in and guarded him the best, Immanuel Quickley, so I left him in. You won’t believe this -- we’re trying to win.
Q. Coach, do you have any early takes on Georgia? Have you watched any film on them?
JOHN CALIPARI: I haven’t watched them at all. I know they beat Memphis today in Memphis, which is a great win, and knowing Tommy (Crean), they’re going to play fast. They’re going to run a bunch of stuff. They’ve got good players. It’s going to be sold out.
We’ve got a two-day flip. We don’t know if Ashton (Hagans) plays. We don’t know -- it doesn’t look like Johnny will make the trip. So now we’re -- you know, trying to get Brad (Calipari) back. Can’t get him back (laughter). I wonder, if he came back, would he have to sit out? He’s my son, right?
Q. John, where you described with the young guys learning to handle their emotions and not let them dictate, are you surprised E.J. (Montgomery) seems to be struggling with that given his relative amount of experience here?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, but, you know, this is all new, and he’s going to be fine. I try to tell him be what Anthony Davis was in the National Championship Game. At halftime, he walked in, I can’t make a shot. I’m going to block shots and rebound every ball I can get, and I’m going to fly up and down this court and help all of you on defense, but I can’t make a shot. He ended up going 1 for 10 in the game, never changed his emotion, and he was the outstanding player of the game going 1 for 10. Be that guy.
But here’s the problem. That’s really hard. It’s easier, just give me some jump shots. Well, that is -- that fight -- and I keep telling them, just be that guy. The offense will come because he’s working on it, he’s getting better, he’s conditioning better. It just doesn’t happen when your timetable says.
The question will be, when you’re working, can you keep working until it hits? And that’s hard because these kids hear stuff. They’ve got all the clutter telling them how to play. They go to get a haircut, the guy tells them, you should just shoot every ball. I don’t know why you listen to everybody. You should just shoot, and they’ve got to deal with all that. It’s part of it.
But we’ve got great kids. I said this after last game, the guy that cheered hardest for our win was Kahlil (Whitney). And I looked over because I wanted to see the bench, and he went nuts. He was so happy, and he only played two minutes. It shows what kind of kid he is. Now we’ve got to get him to break through with us still winning. But he’s getting closer.
Q. John, you’ve been talking for weeks about fight and finish. Is there anything tangible to be learned by your guys? Have you talked to your guys about what the football team just accomplished?
JOHN CALIPARI: We didn’t, but they know how I feel because I’ve talked to them before. Lynn (Bowden Jr.) has a will to win, and he dragged everybody. Now, everybody did their job, the staff. Mark (Stoops) and I talked back and forth, I told him amazing job he’s done with this program. Think about what he’s done here. It’s amazing. But he had Lynn Bowden Jr, who willed them -- who thought they were going to throw that ball? And if you thought it, you should have been drug tested, okay?
And that kid threw that. He wanted to throw it. He’s like, I want to be that guy. How about this one, guys? He even played in the game. Why would he have played in the game? Because he cares about the university, he cares about the program, he cared about his teammates, and they all followed him.
And that will to win, just think when you have a bunch of guys, that’s when you win national titles. Michael Kidd-(Gilchrist) -- you know what I’m saying -- Darius Miller, a bunch of guys, Terrence (Jones), Doron (Lamb), 22 in the National Championship Game, Marquis Teague -- all the guys, that’s when -- but when you have one, it’s harder to kind of break through because you’re going to lose some games where he can’t do it himself.
For us, we learned from Ohio State. It’s a two-point game and anybody’s ball game with four minutes to go. We turn it over three times, take two bad shots, and they take great shots. They were a veteran team. They did it, we didn’t, you get beat.
I thought we did good against Louisville, the execution of what we were trying to do. The last play that got to Nick (Richards), the cross screen, boom, back to the basket, that’s execution, and that’s finishing the game.
I thought we did some good stuff today. The end of the half bothered me, three turnovers, come on now. Three turnovers. If you finish plays, then we’re up 12 1/2. It’s a different ball game. So, we’re still learning. We’re still in the process.
And like I said, going to Georgia, our hands are full. I haven’t seen much, but I know their coach. I know how good he is. I know how hard their team will play. They’ll be prepared. The good news is they only have a day and a half too, like us. I can’t imagine they’ll do much tomorrow, neither will we.
#4 Nick Richards, Jr, Forward
On back-to-back dominant games …
“I felt pretty confident out there. My teammates put me in the right spots to be successful on the court. All praise goes to them, they are the ones that are trying to help me play confident.”
On how vital it was to come back and have a good performance after the Louisville game …
“I think it was vital for us just to come back and get a win. Just to show the country that we are not just going to come out and play against Louisville just because we need to. We are trying to come out and get better and try to get wins.”
On talking back and forth with opponent players …
“There are sometimes that you shouldn’t even worry about going back and forth with players, you should just be worried about what’s going on with the scoreboard. We were up most of the time and whatever happened, happened.”
#1 Nate Sestina, Gr., Forward
On his thoughts about Nick Richards performance tonight …
“Nick (Richards) played really well, his first half was incredible; he squared up in the post, shot jump shots, rebounded the ball very well, ran up and down the court. He did a lot of stuff people really don’t pay a lot of attention to, when he ran the floor, he opened it up for our guards to drive off of him and his offense was going. So that was something we were able to go to, especially early in the game and his was big for us today.”
On how important it was for the Kentucky big men to play well today …
“We have been doing that the past couple of games, just emphasizing the post, posting up hard, keeping your feet moving. KP (Kenny Payne) talked about it earlier today before the game about that they were going to fight us in the post, and we would have to fight them in the post. If our feet were stuck in the mud, we are not going to get the ball or a good position, so we were going to keep moving, keep our feet moving. Nick (Richards) did a really good job of that early and he was able to get the ball wherever he wanted it to.”
On how big Immanuel Quickley’s three pointers were in transition ….
“He is, we do a drill at the end of practices where we shoot in transition, everybody’s legs are tired of running it up and down for hours during practice and that’s the last thing you do and he makes fifteen in a row most of the time, it’s actually pretty incredible and he’s our go to guy at the end of the games when legs are tired. We understand and trust that he is going to make those shots.”
On Immanuel Quickley’s corner three pointer that bounced around the backboard and went in …
“I was on the floor, I was trying to get the ball, but it’s another big shot, it bounces up and hits the top of the backboard and it’s another momentum changer he just hits. For us to make shots like that and get our momentum going and in the right direction is big for us.”
On his thoughts on Ashton Hagan’s injury …
“I actually didn’t know until I saw him over at the team huddle, but yeah he’s our guy, he’s our go to guy on offense and defense, he gets stuff moving, he gets us the ball on defense and I hope everything is alright with him.”
#5 Immanuel Quickley, So., Guard
On his performance in the last two games …
“Yeah. Just been spending extra time in the gym. Appreciate these guys, they’ve been giving me the confidence to play great. My teammates find me a great spot so, just a little bit of everything combined.”
On the reason for his increase in confidence in shooting coming back …
“Yeah, since we haven’t had school, I’ve been able to get into the gym a lot more. Actually, worked out once at (midnight). And I’ll still be getting a lot of sleep because we don’t practice till later in the day. So that’s been helping me. And really just working with my coaches, staying in the gym and staying hungry.”
On how nice it is to know that they have back to back high scoring games …
“It’s always great to play here at Rupp. I love the rims at Rupp. You know they’re really soft. The home crowd always helps, you know. Everybody is cheering for you. So that’s really been a help to, I just really love playing here.”
On his reaction to Ashton’s (Hagans) injury …
“I didn’t even the him play. I don’t even think he knew what happened. When he was limping though, it definitely dropped my heart. I’m sure everybody was holding their breath a little bit. Because he’s basically the heart and soul of our team. Offensively, defensively, he’s a leader. Everything he does, everything works out.”
On hat to do if Ashton (Hagans) isn’t in the game …
“Just try to pick up the little stuff that he does. He’s really active on defense, trying to get steals and stuff. He gets everybody else involved, so you know we’re gonna have be an even better passing team than we already are. He’s a leader ya know. So, we’re gonna have to talk, pick up little stuff that he does, and hopefully everybody together will make up for that.”
And here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Winning its eighth straight home game, Kentucky is now 10-3 while Missouri is 8-5. It was the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
- UK leads the series 13-1 and has won three in a row against the Tigers. UK is 7-0 vs. Missouri in Lexington.
- Next up: Kentucky has its SEC road opener Tuesday at Georgia at 9 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.
- Nick Richards had 21 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. It his sixth double-double of the season and seventh of his career.
- He had one double-double in his first 74 career games, now has six in 13 games this season.
- UK is 9-0 this season when he scores in double figures and 6-0 when he gets double-digit rebounds.
- He posted 17 points and eight rebounds in the opening half, his best scoring half of his career. He previously scored 15 in the second half vs. Fort Wayne during a career 25-point, 15-rebound outing vs. Fort Wayne on Nov. 22, 2017.
- It’s the fourth time this season he’s blocked four or more shots. Kentucky is 4-0 in those games.
- He took a career-high 13 shots, making 10 of them.
- A game after drawing 11 fouls vs. Louisville, he drew seven vs. Missouri.
- Immanuel Quickley scored a career-high 23 points, featuring a career-high four 3-pointers and a perfect 9 of 9 at the foul line.
- Dating back to the Lamar game, he’s made 24 straight free throws, the longest streak since Tyler Herro made 38 straight from Feb. 16 to March 29 last season.
- Quickley entered the game fourth in the country with a .949 free-throw percentage. The school record is 93.5% (minimum 50 attempts), set last season by Tyler Herro.
- It’s the fourth time this season he’s hit multiple 3-pointers in a game.
- He now leads the team with 18 3-pointers.
- Ashton Hagans recorded seven points, five rebounds and a game-high seven assists.
- He now has 10 straight games with at least five assists, the best run since Tyler Ulis dished out five or more in 24 straight games from Dec. 26, 2015, to March 17, 2016.
- His 10-game streak with six or more assists is the best such run of the John Calipari era.
- Hagans left the game at the 1:30 mark with a left ankle injury. After the game, Calipari said it was a lower left ankle sprain. His status is day-to-day.
- His 7.3 assist average continues to be ahead of the school-record pace.
Coach John Calipari
- Calipari is now 315-74 at UK.
- He has a 760-214 all-time on-court record.
- He is now 345-104 all-time in conference games, including 137-38 in the SEC.
- UK is 254-42 vs. unranked competition under Calipari.
- Kentucky is now 67-19 in Southeastern Conference openers, including 9-2 under Calipari.
- The Wildcats are now just two victories shy of 1,000 all-time wins in the SEC.
- UK held the visitors to 59 points. UK is 181-7 under Calipari when limiting the opponent to 63 points or less, including 8-0 this season.
- UK shot 43.5% from the field and Missouri hit 36.2%, moving Kentucky to 9-0 this season when outshooting the opponent.
- Kentucky improved to 194-17 in the Calipari era when holding the opponent to 40% or less.
- UK was remarkable consistent at the foul line, making 90% in the first half (9 of 10), 90% in the second half (18 of 20) and 90% for the game (27 of 30).
- UK entered the week ranked 10th in the nation in free throw percentage, 79.0%.
- Wildcats won the rebounding 36-31 and are now 9-0 this season when leading the rebounding.
- Kentucky had two 20-point scorers for the second time this season. Richards and Hagans did it earlier this season in the Utah Valley game.
- Kentucky led by as many as 16 points in the second half. The Wildcats improved to 270-6 under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest.
In the First Half
- The starting lineup consisted of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks Jr., EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards for the second straight game.
- Nate Sestina was the first sub at the 16:51 mark.
- Missouri controlled the game at the outset, building a 17-9 lead.
- Kentucky got on the board with a Richards dunk at the 17:20 mark. Richards scored UK’s first nine points and no other Wildcat tallied until a driving layup by Maxey with 10:05 on the clock.
- Maxey’s score was followed by five more points from Richards, the start of a 12-0 run that gave UK the lead at 21-17 and the Wildcats never trailed again.
- A total spurt of 22-6 gave UK its largest lead of the half, eight points, at 31-23.
- UK led at halftime 31-26 behind 17 points from Richards, the highest scoring half of his career.
- With the win, Kentucky is now 10-0 when leading at the break.
In the Second Half
- UK began the second half with Hagans, Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Montgomery and Richards.
- Missouri opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, but then UK steadily added to its advantage, improving the lead to 13 points at 46-33 and 48-35.
- Quickley started quickly in the second half, scoring 11 of UK’s first 13 points.
- Missouri’s Javon Pickett was assessed a technical foul with 14:09 remaining. It was also Missouri’s seventh foul of the half, putting UK in the bonus.
- UK led by as many as 16 points at 52-36 and 62-46.
- Missouri got no closer than 10 down the stretch as the Wildcats brought home the victory.