By LARRY VAUGHT
Just do what you do. Run, block shots, rebound.
That’s the message on Monday that Kentucky coach John Calipari said he gave sophomore Nick Richards and Richards added that if he could be a rim protector, then UK could win the national title.
Well, Calipari’s pep talk worked because Richards easily had his best overall game of the season Tuesday night in UK’s 63-49 win at Georgia. The Bulldogs got an early lead like every other SEC team has done thanks to five dunks in six minutes. That’s when Calipari gave Richards a chance to play and his defense helped change the game.
He finished the game with three blocked shots and — get this — drew two charges. He also had seven rebounds — his highest total since UK’s second game this year — along with four point.
“The only thing he did one time, he left the basket to go block a shot he had no chance of getting that opened up the rim for a tip in. We don’t want him doing that. We want him around the goal, and if the guy puts his head down and keeps coming, take the charge,” Calipari said.
Well, Richards did take that charge twice so to me the trade-off for one mistake was more than evened out with everything else Richards did.
“We’ve been working on charging and loose balls every day for the last 10 days because three games prior to this, I don’t think we took a charge,” Calipari said.
Calipari finally admitted that Richards was “unbelievable” in the game in large part because he finally relaxed and didn’t let anything bother him.
“Nick led the troops with that, that anxiety, that pressure. Pressing himself. He just played today,” Calipari said. “Now, he scored four points but it doesn’t matter. Anybody would want him on their team.”
Richards certainly made a believer out of ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes, a former UK assistant coach. Dykes was near hyper when Richards hit a jump hook to go along with the follow dunk he had for his other field goal.
“That is a game changer right there,” Dykes said after the jump hook. “If he starts making that shot, watch out. Impossible to stop.”
No argument but Kentucky needs his defense more than his offense.
“If he can be a paint protector, not just a rim protector. That’s how long this kid is,” Dykes said.