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The Nick Richards breakout is finally upon us

His last two performances are the proof we need.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

This may come as a shock, but junior center Nick Richards had never posted consecutive double-doubles in his college career until Saturday.

The 6-foot-11-inch, 244-lb center from Kingston, Jamaica, was expected to be one of the several shining stars of John Calipari’s 2017 recruiting class, as he was one of six five-star prospects in the freshman class. That never materialized in year one.

Kentucky fans were optimistic he’d reach his full potential in his sophomore season, but aside from a few strong games, he underwhelmed. The first three games of the season were essentially a perfect microcosm of Richards’ career at UK:

  • Vs. Duke: 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls
  • Vs. Southern Illinois: 8 points, 19 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers, 2 fouls
  • Vs. North Dakota: 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls

The nineteen rebounds in a single game were astounding. The 10 total points across three games? Not so much.

This inconsistency was perhaps even more polarizing in Richards’ freshman year, as it featured higher highs and lower lows. Richards posted the best game of his career in his freshman season against Purdue-Fort Wayne: 25 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks and only one turnover.

He did all that in UK’s sixth game of the season, but over the Wildcats’ final four games of the regular season, he totaled just three combined points and 19 combined rebounds.

Richards has been the standard for inconsistency in his time at UK. Which is why it’s time to believe now more than ever that he’s in his breakout year.

Richards’ back-to-back performances against Louisville and Missouri are the best consecutive games he’s had in a UK jersey, and they’re far from the only good games he’s had this year.

Over the last two games, Richards has totaled 34 points, 22 rebounds and five blocks. The only time he’s beat that point total in a two-game stretch was earlier this year when he scored 40 between games against Utah Valley (21 points) and Mount St. Mary’s (19 points). He matched that two-game rebound total earlier this year in wins over Lamar (13 rebounds) and Alabama-Birmingham (nine rebounds).

Statistically, Richards is on pace to surpass his single-season career-best mark in just about every category. He’s just 24 points shy of his career-best points mark, 189, which he set his freshman year (he’s on pace for 380 in the regular season). He’s 66 rebounds shy of his career-best rebounds mark, 164, which he set his freshman year (he’s on pace for 226). He’s also only 17 blocks shy of his career-best 47 blocks, which he set his sophomore year (he’s on pace for 69).

He’s also posting career highs in field-goal percentage (68%) and free-throw percentage (73%).

In his time at UK, Richards has been notorious for dominating against weaker teams and going silent against UK’s big opponents. In Richards’ freshman and sophomore seasons, he averaged 2.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in six games against UofL, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and UCLA.

His performances against UK’s biggest rival and the Wildcats’ first conference opponent of the season would suggest a bucking of the trend this year. Richards’ career-high in points against UofL prior to last Saturday’s win was four. His career high in rebounds was six.

He’d historically been no better against Missouri. His career high in points against the Tigers was seven, and his career high in rebounds was four.

“Sophomore Nick Richards” didn’t grow into the player that UK fans hoped he’d be after an underwhelming-yet-encouraging freshman campaign. But fear not; junior Nick Richards is the version that UK has been waiting for.