By LARRY VAUGHT
Maybe it was just a Dec. 28th game and the season still does have over two months — and 19 games — left but credit Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley for knowing not to downplay how important Saturday’s 78-70 overtime win over rival Louisville was for the Wildcats.
“A win like this definitely helps psychologically, knowing we can beat a team like this and Michigan State. Louisville’s a great team so for us to get this win is really great,” Quickley said.
Quickley played a huge part in Kentucky’s win. He had 18 points and made two free throws with 17 seconds left in overtime to secure the win after grabbing a key defensive rebound. He also made a 3-pointer in overtime after the Cats had just missing winning the game in regulation when Keion Brooks’ tip-in at the buzzer rolled off the rim.
The UK sophomore said coach John Calipari told the players not to panic going into overtime. Quickley did the same.
“I tried to tell everybody to calm down and just to get ready to play those last five minutes. I learned that we’re a really tough team, especially with us being so close with Keion’s tip-in almost going in, and we came back and fought in the overtime,” Quickley said.
Quickley’s biggest contribution, though, may have been on defense when he helped harass Louisville’s leading scorer Jordan Nwora into a forgettable game. Nwora was just 2-for-10 from the field, took just two shots the second half when Louisville coach Chris Mack even benched him at times because of his unproductive play and finished with just eight points.
Brooks got the start to guard Nwora but Quickley didn’t pout on the bench. He knew he was going to get his chance to guard Nwora and he was ready because Calipari told the team whoever did the best job on Nwora who would stay in the game.
“I just wanted to play in the game, so I said, ‘If I get on Nwora, I just want to really make it hard.’ He’s a really good player, but he just had a tough night,” Quickley said.
Calipari certainly appreciated what Quickley did but Quickley said teammate Ashton Hagans remains “that guy” who is UK’s defensive stopper.
“But I’ll be more than happy to try to get a Defensive Player of the Year myself,” Quickley said. “But Ashton’s that guy for us. When he’s defending, I’m just trying to defend. He’s really rubbing off on everybody else.”
Quickley did a little “rubbing off” of his own before he made his two free throws to clinch the win. Teammates were already celebrating with UK leading 72-70 but he knew with 17 seconds left he needed to make his free throws — he’s a 95 percent shooter — to make sure UK did win.
“Ashton was running down the other side of the floor putting up L’s down and I was like ‘we gotta huddle, we gotta huddle.’ I’ve been in that kind of game. We were up two and I got fouled after the rebound, and everybody was jumping up and L’s down and I was like, ‘I gotta make the free throws.’”
And he did just that.