By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Clearly Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey were the stars of the game for Kentucky in the 78-70 overtime win over Louisville here Saturday.
But as good as they were — Richards had 13 points and 11 rebounds while Maxey had 27 points and seven rebounds — they were not the only reasons UK won. Big reasons, but not the only reasons.
Take sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley. He had to spend part of the game guarding Louisville All-American Jordan Nwora, and did it well. He also had to go to the foul line with 17.7 seconds left in overtime and UK leading 72-70. He calmly knocked down both free throws, which was not really a surprise since he is 37 of 39 (95 percent) at the line this season.
“He ends up guarding Jordan. That’s a hard cover now. Kid never stops, really shoots, long and athletic,” Calipari said.
Quickley finished with 18 points on 4-for-11 shooting from the field and 8-for-8 at the line. He also managed to grab three rebounds. Calipari admitted at times he basically ran plays for Maxey and Quickley since they were the only two who could score.
Freshman Keion Brooks Jr. doesn’t have an impressive stat sheet — two points, one rebound, one steal, one block — but he was a demon on defense against Nwora, too. He got the start and seldom let him get an open look. Nwora (2-for-10) struggled so much that coach Chris Mack finally took him out and went with other players.
Brooks also just missed a tip-in at the buzzer that would have won the game in regulation for Kentucky. But even though he was 0-for-4 from the field against the team Calipari says is the nation’s best team, he still played 25 minutes and was a contributor.
“Keion fought,” Calipari said.
Which is what he always does and why he’s so valuable.
Point guard Ashton Hagans was a stopper on defense again. Calipari felt he played a little “undisciplined” at times — one reason he was 3-for-8 from the field. Yet he still had eight points, eight assists, five rebounds, two steals and one block.
Of course, Kentucky overall did one thing much better than it did in losses last week to Utah and Ohio State. It shot the basketball well.
The Cats were 7-for-15 from 3-point range — Maxey was 4-for-5 — and 21-for-25 at the foul line. Louisville was 7-for-27 from long range and 9-for-20 at the foul line.
“I thought they shot the ball better today obviously than they have all year,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “But I thought some of their looks were created by their quickness and ability to use screens effectively. Tough for us in the sense that the demise of our team was our free throw shooting. Had we rung the bell from the free throw line, the game is different.
“We expected to win. Disappointed that we didn’t.”
The Cats were giddy they won. They celebrated with fans after the game. They showed the “L’s down” signs that upset Louisville football coach Scott Satterfield when UK beat his team at Kroger Field in November. However, this time Louisville center Steven Enoch didn’t seem bothered by any of that.
“We enjoyed every second out there. We never enjoy a loss but we enjoy competing,” Enoch, who had 18 points and five rebounds, said.
It was that kind of game. Kentucky blew a 12-point second half lead and then fought back late the way it didn’t in close losses to Evansville, Utah and Ohio State.
It’s still December, but Calipari had to be pleased with the way his team finished the game and beat a team he thinks could be a No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament play.
“I was proud being down 3 and fighting back to win the game,” Calipari said. “Learning how to win and making plays you must make is kind of like telling them that is fire, don’t touch it. They are going to touch it.”
However, this time Kentucky didn’t get burned and got a win it desperately needed not just for a NCAA resume but also for its confidence.