By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — It won’t go down as a rare triple-double, but maybe it should.
Chris Mills, De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe have the only three triple-doubles in Kentucky basketball history but that is based on points, rebounds and assists. Junior Nick Richards had another sort of triple-double in Saturday’s 78-70 overtime win over Louisville.
Richards had 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field and 5-for-7 at the foul line, 10 rebounds and 11 fouls drawn. Considering UK’s lack of inside play in recent games, drawing 11 fouls against the Cards might have been Richards’ biggest feat against Louisville.
“I wouldn’t say it was my best game. You know, I would probably say that this is the most we have ever fought as a team,” said Richards. “There is a lot more games we are going to play when SEC starts.”
Maybe but UK may not play another team during the regular season as good as Louisville, a team Calipari says might be the best in the nation. Yet it was also nice to see Richards not satisfied with what he did even if every UK fan was elated with his performance.
What made Richards’ play even more impressive was that he picked up his fourth foul with 14 minutes, 31 seconds left in regulation. He sat out about 4 1/2 minutes before coming back in with 8:53 left and avoided picking up a fifth foul. He even drew two key charges while playing with four fouls and ended up with his team-leading fifth double-double.
Richards said he just tried to play “smarter” after he picked up his fourth foul.
“I noticed a lot when they were driving they were lowering their shoulders on me, but I just tried to take charges on those and hoped they weren’t called blocks. It was a 50-50 chance,” Richards said.
“I wouldn’t say I was as aggressive with four fouls, but I was going for as many blocks as possible. It was my fault (for being in foul trouble) and I shouldn’t have let that happen, but we’re just happy we got this win and we just want to celebrate.”
After Kentucky fell behind 68-65 in overtime, Richards — yes Richards — ripped off seven straight points for the Cats to set the stage for the celebrating. His old-fashioned 3-point play tied the game with 1:53 left. He his a layup at 1:23 to give UK the 70-68 lead and broke another tie with 27 seconds left with two free throws to give UK the lead for good at 72-70.
“He’s an animal on the glass and we didn’t do as good of a job as we could’ve of boxing him out, because that’s where a lot of his opportunities came from,” Louisville center Steven Enoch, who had 18 points but took 17 shots, said. “Other than that, I feel like he did what he’s capable of.”
Yes he’s capable. Problem is he’s not always done that consistently or any game as big as the one Saturday. He was also coming off his two worst games — Utah and Ohio State — of the season where he had a combined seven points and four rebounds in the two games combined.
“He came back and worked. What I told the team is that he has to get the ball, we got to get him touches. If we can get him touches by how we’re playing, we just got to throw it to him,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game.
“And Nick, you got to fight for position, so we must throw it to you. We put in a couple little wrinkles for it. But the reality of it is, now we are playing. Proud of them, how he played in foul trouble and he still responded.”
Richards said he “needed” a three-day break Calipari gave the team for Christmas after the Ohio State loss. He said that gave him a chance to recharge.
“I was definitely more focused when we got back. I had a lot more attention to detail at practice. Tried to be a good leader to my teammates, just trying to be a better overall player,” Richards said after the win.
Louisville coach Chris Mack said Richards did what he needed to do for Kentucky.
“He’s good, and he is big as hell. You don’t see that size very often,” Mack said. “Nick Richards is a good player, we tried to go at him as much as we could, and we give credit for how talented he is.”
Calipari — and UK fans — hope what Richards did Saturday will build his confidence for Southeastern Conference play that starts on Saturday.
“Demonstrated performance is how you build your own confidence. If you build your own confidence no one can take it away except you by being arrogant. I say to stay humble and hungry. If you get arrogant, you’ll go right back in the hole you were in. But demonstrated performance is how you build your own confidence,” Richards said.
“You miss five, six shots in a row: You’re great. You’re the best shooter ever. Well, that doesn’t build their confidence. They know they just missed six and two of them were air balls, and you’re telling me I’m great? That doesn’t work. So, the same with Nick and his ability to fight and create a position for himself and really have an impact on the game, which was big, even with the foul trouble.”