By LARRY VAUGHT
Just in case you are not a Basketball Benny that John Calipari often calls what he considers knowledgeable basketball fans — or media members — then you know that Kentucky has grown to where it depends on Nick Richards.
When he got in early foul trouble — on what Calipari called “dumb fouls”— against Vanderbilt it showed. Kentucky was down seven points at halftime Wednesday and down 10 early in the second half before rallying to win 71-60.
Richards had 15 points and 11 rebounds. All 15 points came in the second half and 10 of the rebounds came in the second half when he had a double-double in one half.
“You can’t do that to us,” Calipari said about Richards’ foul trouble. “We need you on the court. He is in unbelievable condition. The difference in the second half — and now I got to tell you, this is what’s great about a player-driven team.”
Richards is averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game the last nine games. Kentucky is 15-1 this year when he scores in double figures and 9-0 when he has 10 or more rebounds.
Vanderbilt coach Jerry Steakhouse, a former NBA star, certainly understands what Richards brings to the court and says he “absolutely” looks like a NBA center.
“I think he has all of the tools. He’s still working on his game. I just see how he has improved. You can tell a lot about the guy when you look at his free-throw percentage, how he’s improved each year. That lets you know that he’s focused on improving and getting better,” Stackhouse said.
“The sheer ability to play above the rim, set screens and roll, crash the offensive boards. The best Nick Richards that you’re going to see isn’t going to happen while he is here at Kentucky. He’s going to be a guy who’s ceiling is going to be a lot higher at the next level.”