By LARRY VAUGHT
Early in the Kentucky-Auburn game Saturday ESPN analyst Jay Bilas praised UK junior center Nick Richards for his rebounding skills.
“Richards is doing such a good job on the offensive glass and not surrendering to the blockout. You can get a body on him but he just won’t stop,” Bilas said.
Guess what? Auburn did stop him enough to beat the Wildcats 75-66.
Four of Richards’ seven rebounds were offensive but he had just seven points on 3-for-8 shooting and got to the foul line just twice. He also managed to block just one shot in his 37 minutes of play.
Auburn centers Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore kept the defensive pressure on him. Richards had scored at least 13 points in every game since Dec. 21 and been so good that Auburn coach Bruce Pearl agreed he was a SEC Player of the Year candidate.
Pearl said Wiley’s physical play enabled him to “hang in there and negate some” of Richards’ ability. McLemore is not as big or strong as Wiley but his energy helped negate Richards’ play as well.
“Every time their guards drove to the basket, we knew they were going to look for him (Richards), so we just stayed with him instead of rotating over for the block,” Wiley said. “I feel like that helped a lot.”
It did. The UK guards could not lob the ball to Richards for easy dunks as they had the last six weeks.
But not only did McLemore and Wiley play defense in their combined 40 minutes, they also easily outscored Richards. Wiley had 12 points and McLemore seven. They got to the foul line a combined 10 times. They also combined for 15 rebounds, including 10 of Auburn’s 17 offensive boards that won the game for the Tigers as Auburn had 24 points in the paint to 18 for UK.
“Wiley just had a field day on Nick, and not many people have done that to Nick, but he did,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
“Nick Richards has been dominating lately, and (Wiley) was just physically able to hang in there and to negate some of it,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “And I thought Anfernee McLemore, who gives away a lot of size, hung in there as well.”