LEXINGTON, Ky. -- There’s an old saying amongst men, in particular southern men, that size matters.
This is true of the Kentucky Wildcats.
Boasting of seven players that are 6-7 or taller, the Cats have the 4th largest team in all of college basketball. Kentucky rode their superior height and athleticism to a 86-67 victory over Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne as part of the Adolph Rupp Classic Wednesday night, Nov. 22 in Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats length was a decided advantage on the glass as the Cats outrebounded the Mastadons 44-21 and on defense as the Cats (5-1) forced the Dons (3-2) into 10 turnovers.
Freshman center Nick Richards led UK with a monster night of 25 points and 15 rebounds. It’s the first 20-10 game since Bam Adebayo went for 22-15 against Missouri last year. It’s also the first 25-15 game since Terrance Jones went for 27-17 against Notre Dame in 2010.
“Yeah, he was pretty good today,” said UK coach John Calipari (pictured). “I was just happy for how he reached for balls and the stuff he was doing.”
UK also had balance in their scoring to go along with Richards as freshmen Kevin Knox, Quade Green, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each tallied 11 points. Sophomore Wenyen Gabriel chipped in with 9 points and 10 rebounds.
Early in the first half, the Dons came out firing with the team hitting five of their first six 3 pointers. Kentucky came out as hot as their opponents, shooting nearly 85 percent from the floor. With 3:50 to go in the half and the Dons leading 37-36, Kentucky coach John Calipari went from his trademark man-to-man to a 2-3 zone. From there, the Cats went on a 9-0 run to end the half highlighted by freshman guard Hamidou Diallo’s 3 as time expired giving the Cats a 45-37 lead at the half.
Calipari had praise for the Mastodons as well. “Let me say this about Fort Wayne…how well they are coached and how do they play to their strength, which is drive the ball and shoot the three. They’re a veteran team,” he added.
To start the second half, UK extended Fort Wayne's scoreless streak to over six minutes while continuing to stay hot, extending the scoring run to 15-0 to extend the lead to 51-37. UK also had runs of 8-0 and 9-0 in the half as the lead ballooned to 30 points at 79-49, the largest lead Kentucky has had all season.
UK’s 86 points tonight is a season high for the Cats. For the game, Kentucky shot 60 percent from the field, also a season high. Rebounding has been a strong suit for the Cats so far as well. With the decided advantage on the glass, the Cats have enjoyed a five-game streak of outrebounding their opponents. In the last two contests, the Cats have been plus 23 in rebound margin.
“But I’m proud of them. I’m happy.” Calipari said.
Kentucky will look to continue their strong play Sunday against Illinois-Chicago in the final game of the Rupp Classic. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 PM with the SEC network televising the matchup.
Shane Shackleford is a writer and retired teacher/coach residing in Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook at Shane Shackleford, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics