You don’t have the history that Kentucky has without having a few feel-good stories mixed in there throughout the years and after the season he just had, you can put Nick Richards into that category.
During his first two seasons at Kentucky, Richards showed flashes of his potential as a towering big man with good mobility and soft touch for a 7-footer. But, that was the problem. They were just flashes.
The Cats had a boatload of questions throughout the first chunk of the season, but thankfully for Kentucky’s sake, Richards wasn’t one of them. In fact, he was their best player. Imagine telling yourself during last year’s run to the Elite Eight that Nick Richards would return to school as a junior (a rarity in the Calipari era), but become a leader vocally and by example.
Last season, Richards featured in 37 games, but started just three of them behind Reid Travis and PJ Washington. He played just a shade over 12 minutes per contest, averaged four points per game with 3.3 rebounds in those 37 games.
This season, Richards was a whole new man, starting 30 of the 31 contests for the Cats, averaging 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and representing Kentucky as one of their two All-SEC First Team players along with conference player of the year Immanuel Quickley. Richards scored 19+ points in eight games, including a career-high 27 on Feb. 4 against Mississippi State, along with 10 games with 10+ rebounds and a career-best 75.2 free-throw shooting percentage on almost five attempts a game.
Richards provided some fun moments during his best season in Lexington, so let’s dive into a quartet of those moments, starting with a monstrous performance in the toughest environment Kentucky played in all season.
The main reason Kentucky became the one in 54-1
Kentucky ended Texas Tech’s 54-game home non-conference winning streak on Feb. 25 in a 76-74 overtime nail-biter and Nick Richard was a massive reason why the Cats were able to escape Lubbock with one of their best wins of this past season.
Richards was an absolute stud, scoring 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting while going 11-of-14 from the charity stripe, grabbing a season-high 14 rebounds and swatting four shots in 39 minutes of action.
With almost 20 scouts in attendance, Richards shows off against the co-SEC Player of the Year
At halftime of Kentucky’s 80-72 victory over Mississippi State back on Feb. 4, Nick Richards had just two points at the break with a handful of rebounds.
He’d finish with 27 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 13-of-15 from the line in the win. Defensively, he and EJ Montgomery held the co-Associated Press SEC Player of the Year Reggie Perry to 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting and fouled him out of the contest late.
It was a total takeover for Richards. This was one of the prime showcases where the BBN saw the progression that the Kingston, Jamaica native made this season in the first of an eight-game winning streak late in the year that helped Kentucky clinch the school’s 49th SEC regular season title.
Richards helps Kentucky throws the L’s down again
With about two minutes to play in the Battle of the Bluegrass, Kentucky trailed then-No. 3 Louisville 68-65 with the ball. Tyrese Maxey, who had a spectacular game in his own right, drove down the lane and put up a tough runner that missed.
The ensuing play that followed put Nick Richards in the lore of the heated rivalry forever, grabbing the offensive rebound, putting back and getting the foul to try and tie the game at 68 with 1:56 to play. Richards hit the freebie to tie and Kentucky finished that final 116 seconds on a 10-2 run to beat their rivals to the west once again, 78-70.
His reaction showed just how badly he wanted to win the game and knew how badly Kentucky needed this game after the rough two-game trip to Las Vegas a week prior. The three-point play displayed just how far he had come this season already following two tough years. It was an awesome moment for him and Rupp Arena proceeded to explode.
Not only did Richards make one of the plays of the day for Kentucky, he had a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double.
It was much needed for a kid that played 39 minutes in the previous two games out in Vegas and had more fouls (8) than points (7).
A one-man wrecking crew to close the season
Ashton Hagans was dealing with some personal matters and didn’t make the final road trip of the season on Mar. 7 against Florida.
John Calipari appeared to be ejected from the contest himself.
Immanuel Quickley fouled out of the game with 9:04 to play.
Kentucky trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half.
Nick Richards couldn’t have had worst first half against the Gators if he tried. He and Montgomery combined for zero rebounds in the first half with the Cats down 10. It was quickly spiraling out of control in the second half, but to his credit, Richards didn’t quit following John Calipari’s challenge during his halftime talk and Kentucky started to chip away at it.
Then, on the back of their junior leader, it started to feel like the Cats could potentially win the game.
In the final 11:55, Kentucky outscored Florida 32-13 and stole a 71-70 victory thanks to 19 points and seven rebounds from Richards, 17 of them in the second half alone, including 11 of those points inside of the game’s final 12 minutes.
How many times did people ask themselves, “Where would Kentucky be without Nick Richards?”
On this day, they were probably on their way to a 20+ point loss.
But with him, they pulled off one of the best comebacks in Kentucky’s long and illustrious history.