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As could have been expected, Cats struggle before Nick Richards, Tyrese Maxey lead winning surge

Tyrese Maxey (Jeff Houchin Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

It was impossible to believe that Kentucky players were not going to be looking ahead to Saturday’s game at Auburn and ESPN College GameDay. No matter how much UK coach John Calipari warned the players against doing that and no matter how much the players said they would not let it happen, you knew it would.

Vanderbilt came into Wednesday night’s game in Rupp Arena on a 24-game Southeastern Conference losing streak. The Commodores had not won a SEC game in 697 days but with about 17 minutes to play, the Commodores led Kentucky 40-30.

It was like UK was not only looking ahead to Auburn but playing like the Tigers — who trailed Mississippi by 17 points at halftime Tuesday when they scored just 20 points in the first 20 minutes.

Auburn came back to win in double overtime. Kentucky didn’t need an overtime but also came back to win 71-62 because Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey dominated the end of the game. They scored UK’s last 18 points — both had nine points — and helped the Cats avert a loss the would have been disastrous for NCAA Tournament seedings.

It was a case of good and bad for UK’s Big Four.

— Ashton Hagans had12 points (4 for 6 from field, 4 for 5 at line), six assists, four rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes — but also had five turnovers.

— Maxey had 17 points on 5 for 10 shooting from field (2 for 3 from 3) and 5 for 6 at line, four rebounds, two assists and one steal — but had three turnovers.

— Richards had 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds — but only played 22 minutes because he got two fouls in less than four minutes to start game and had no points and one rebound at halftime when he played just five minutes.

— Immanuel Quickley had 11 points (5 for 5 at the line), four rebounds, two assists and no turnovers — but was only 3-for-13 from the field.

Yet Kentucky overcame the shortcomings by regrouping at the right time and having players make big plays at the right time.

Maxey was sharply criticized by Calipari after his play at Texas Tech in Saturday’s overtime win. He responded by hitting a 3-pointer to open Wednesday’s game. Calipari said Maxey had responded well in practice the last two days but has “not touched” where he will be in another month.

Maxey said on the SEC Network after the game that Calipari was relatively calm at halftime with UK down seven points and told the team it was not playing hard enough— something every UK fan knew.

Calipari had a little different version of what he told the team.

“It’s your team. You want to lose? Go ahead,” Calipari said he told the players.

Maxey said assistant coaches Kenny Payne and Tony Barbee were a lot more vocal.

“Coach Barbee and coach Payne were pretty animated (at halftime). They were the ones who fired us up. Coach Cal just said we had two good days of practice and deserved to win,” Maxey said.

Maybe UK will look back on this win as another learning lesson. Remember the Cats already have three perplexing losses — Evansville at home, Utah in Las Vegas and South Carolina on the road. Against Evansville and South Carolina, UK couldn’t make plays in close games at the end to win. Against Utah, UK fell behind by double digits and tried to rally too late.

Now it’s on to Auburn and if this team continues the trend it has all season, then UK will come out with a lot more intensity and urgency in what is perceived as a big game the Cats maybe can’t win by many than it did in this game where almost everybody thought there was no way UK could lose.

4 comments

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  1. Last 16 minutes of the game, much better defense, much better rebounding, only 1 turnover (10 in the first 24 minutes), and better execution; tells the story.
    Because of the better defense, the turnover bug switched teams and infected Vandy.
    They have some good players, but looked like they wore out.

  2. Nick picked up 2 quick fouls and had to sit early, but even before that, our guards were not looking for him but looking for their own shots instead. We cannot beat good teams with going through Nick first. Sure, Nick having a 25/14 game does nothing to boost the draft stock of our guards, but that is how we win. Ashton starting looking for Nick in the second half and it brought us back. Ashton has to keep doing this, even if Immanuel and Tyrese don’t. Immanuel had another poor shooting game. I’m not sure what’s going on with him. Tyrese didn’t force as much, but still was looking to shoot and not pass. It worked out tonight, but beating the better teams goes through NIck. Hopefully Coach will get that point across before Saturday.

  3. How many times have we seen teams come into Rupp and shoot the lights out only to fold in the later part of the game. The great John Havlicek would be proud of Hagans, Maxey, and Quickley. Just like him, these three run you into the ground=Go Cats!

  4. Nick picked up early fouls, and that hurt his production and presence in the game. Of course UK should look to pass inside to Nick, and they went through Nick in the second half, a lot, winning this game going away, case closed. Why complain about a win? Maxey can shoot, and Quickley can too. So can Sestina, and Montgomery. Maxey showed last night why he is a good player to have on the floor as much as possible despite the criticism he took after the Texas Tech game. Way to go TM!!!! It is impossible to get the ball to Nick at times, plus they are working against a fading shot clock. I say these other shooters on this team should shoot when they are wide open, and do so when the possession and game situation dictates. The shooter should rise and fire away, especially if he has the hot hand, Hagans included. Guards and wings are allowed to score too in this sport you know. Without Quickley’s shooting this year, and Maxey’s, and Hagan’s, UK don’t win near as many games as their record indicates this morning. Montgomery had great effort against Vandy IMO. He is rising. Ain’t it funny how a couple that used too post on here trashed these two returning players at every turn? Stackhouse got it right about Richards. He is playing himself into the NBA right now. He has all the tools. Where are these two previous VV experts today? Gone like the wind. Hey Catmandoo1000, and Mike, they are proving you wrong. You may post under a different handle now, but you still read what is said herein. Read it and weep.

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