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Kentucky finally “made shots” and then held off LSU

Nick Richards had 13 points, six rebounds and six blocks in Tuesday’s win. (UK Athletics Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari was just a bit sarcastic during his ESPN halftime interview after his team missed 26 of 38 shots overall and eight of 10 3-pointers.

“The whole point is to put the ball in the basket. When you miss every shot and are up by one (29-28), I am whistling and skipping (to the locker room),” Calipari said before adding that at some point his players had to realize they had been shooting basketball their whole lives.

Well the second half at LSU it seemed like Kentucky made every shot. It was 17 of 23 over (73.9 percent) from the field, 7-for-8 (87.5 percent) from 3-point range and nine of 13 from the foul line. Nate Sestina had not made a 3-pointer since Jan. 29 and he had THREE in the second half that pushed UK’s lead to 15 points with just over five minutes left.

“I am not sure LSU was particularly concerned about UK’s 3-point shooting. Kentucky only makes about 4.5 per game and usually burns you inside,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said after UK’s 79-76 win.

He was right, too, as UK was 2-for-22 from 3-point range Saturday against Ole Miss. Throw in the first half and UK had missed 28 of its last 32 3-pointers before catching fire in the second half. However, LSU coach Will Wade said that was not exactly right.

“We left him wide open,” Wade said about Sestina’s shooting. “He’s a good college player. Of course he’s going to make open shots.”

Calipari said it wasn’t hard to see why UK won.

“We made shots (in the second half). It’s hard to win a basketball game and it is really demoralizing and you run good stuff and not only do you miss but you miss it badly,” Calipari said. The second half we come back and made shots and we get up 15 because they made shots.”

The Cats wilted a bit defensively the final five minutes without the pressure from point guard Ashton Hagans, who went out with a thigh injury, and gave up 24 points. Calipari said after the game he knew “nothing” about Hagans’ injury status.

Kentucky hung on to win in large part due to Immanuel Quickley. He had 21 points — his sixth 20-point game of the season — along with six assists, four rebounds and three steals — and only one turnover in 37 minutes.The sophomore guard hit all five shots he took the second half.

Freshman Tyrese Maxey went 5-for-15 from the field but got some key points late and ran the offense with Hagans out. He had four rebounds, three assists and one of UK’s 11 blocked shots.

“It was fun. Crowd was involved, back and forth,” Maxey said on the UK Radio Network after the game. “We went on a bit of a run. Nate Sestina was really big.”

Maxey said late in the game that assistant coach Kenny Payne told the team LSU would get tired and Quickley reminded the players that is why they did so much conditioning work.

“And he was right,” Maxey said. “All the hard work we put in prepared us for this.”

Wade gave much of the credit to Calipari for changing his offense at halftime and simply spread LSU’s defense out when UK scored 50 points.

“That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer,” Wade said.

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  1. Nice SEC road win. Hard to figure this game. Something got our 3 point shooting going in the second half! I have no clue as to what it was, but hope it hangs around for another 45 days.
    How does a team with a front line of 6’6″, 6’6″, and a 6’9″ wing out rebound us by 12? Why didn’t we feed Nick and EJ down low like we fed Nate down low??? Nick got pushed around again and his stat line showed it. I thought EJ was going to step up with the start of the game and then he disappeared. Nick and EJ seem to have trouble with muscular type bullies like Days and Williams…a good reason for both to stay another year and bulk up some.
    Nate didn’t shy away with the rough play, he found his shot again, led us with rebounds but he made 2 bad passes against the press…stupid bad. The press rattled him big time. That will get addressed in the next practice.
    I wonder how Ashton is doing? He made a couple of big 3s but he wouldn’t feed Nick. Neither would Immanuel. I hope both Ashton and Nick can play Saturday. Florida will be looking to get a “quality” win.
    Again, a fantastic road win, but we still have a lot of work to do if we are going to dance in April.

    1. Nick got pushed around? Yeah he gets mugged every game now, and not enough fouls called IMO. Let’s take a look at his stat line. NR had 16 points and 6 blocked shots. True, not one of his best games, but certainly not bad. The guards can’t pass it to Nick if he ain’t open. Don’t tell me they were not looking for him either. Also, they are working against a shot clock that is about to expire, and against a very aggressive defense. Plus driving the ball to score at the rim is UK’s MO. Let’s see what the opposing Coach had to say about NR. Wade said this, “Richards is as good as there is in the SEC. He totally controlled the game defensively.” Also, If UK’s Hagans, Quickley, and Maxey are hitting threes, I will take it every time. If anything will help Nick get easy dunks its opposing teams having to guard the three point line.

  2. We definitely were watching a different game. Nick did have 6 blocks, but only 13 points and 6 boards. Against a small lineup like LSU he should have had 25 and 12 to go with those blocks, but he only got 8 shots. 8 shots with a 6’6″ man guarding him. Nick should be getting 15 shots every game, especially against a short frontcourt, but his stat line always has him with single digit shot attempts. EJ only took 3 shots. Again, against this line up he should have got more. We will not always shoot lights out from 3 like we did in the second half.
    Nick did get fouled a lot that wasn’t called, but he does struggle with scoring and rebounding with muscled up bullies like Wiley from Auburn or Days and Williams with LSU. Nick has been playing well, but his 7’0″ frame would benefit from more muscle. He will need that bulk in the NBA and I hope he comes back for his senior year to get his degree and to bulk up and learn how to play with that additional strength.
    Teams that make it to the Final 4 play inside out, not outside in. One cold shooting game, and we have had a few, and its over. A good center like Nick could carry us to the Final 4 this year, but only if we get him the ball.

  3. Maybe, maybe not. UK was horrendous shooting the ball against Ole Miss, they still won. Yeah if they can go inside out, go for it. Many teams are double teaming Nick preventing him from getting easy baskets. If UK can fire up their three point shooting going forward it will open up his game around the rim big time, because the opponent will have to guard our shooters. Nick does not have the best hands either in catching quick passes sent his way. Calipari has remarked about that.

  4. I think Nick’s biggest problem in catching the ball is he gets moved too easily when stronger guys body up on him. It seems to break his concentration. He is what he is for now and that’s not bad, but coming back next year would really help him for his NBA career. He doesn’t have the upper body strength to shoot through contact and a summer in the weight room would help him. It would be easier for him to learn how to play with that extra strength on the college level and could make him a top 5 pick. It would also help us as I don’t know of any big guys coming in next year, do you?

    1. I would love to see Nick Richards return. As you say, it would help him big time barring no injury. I believe he probably bolts though, we’ll see. He has come a long way. UK has 6’9″ Jackson and Ware inbound don’t they? Two PF’s that will need some weight on their bones, but highly skilled, especially Jackson. Continuing the Calipari experience of reloading.

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