By Jamie H. Vaught
It wasn't a very pretty home opener for the 20,277 spectators at Rupp Arena Friday night, but turnover-plagued UK managed to come out victorious with a 71-59 decision after an ugly start, beating a veteran Southern Illinois team.
Kentucky's aggressiveness on the boards was the difference as the Wildcats outrebounded SIU with a dominating 48-19 margin. UK's Nick Richards, a 6-11 sophomore, was the star of the game as he grabbed a game-high 18 rebounds and blocked three shots to go along with eight points.
"We need Nick on the court," said UK coach John Calipari. "After Duke where they shot layup, layup, layup, layup, you got to have a shot blocker in there. So we need him on the floor.... He was good. Happy for him."
Southern Illinois, a leading contender from the Missouri Valley Conference with five returning starters from last year's 20-win team, took control in the early stages of the game as the Wildcats committed numerous turnovers before UK slowly pulled away in the second half.
Calipari praised Southern Illinois, calling the visitors "well-coached, an NCAA tournament level team. Missed some threes today that could easily have beat us, but hard second game (of the season). I'm still mad we scheduled it. I'm mad we scheduled the first one when we did. And after we played two exhibitions games I knew where we were. But we made strides today."
Leading Kentucky, which had 19 turnovers compared to SIU's 13, in the scoring department was freshmen Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley. They each scored 15 points with sophomore Quade Green adding 14 points. Rookie EJ Montgomery had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Junior Aaron Cook and 6-10 senior Kavion Pippen (who is a nephew of NBA great Scottie Pippen) led the Salukis with 18 and 16 points, respectively. Pippen also snatched a team-high seven rebounds.
The victory was UK's 44th straight over an Associated Press unranked nonconference opponent at home. The Wildcats also have never lost a home opener under coach John Calipari, who is within 21 wins of Joe B. Hall's win total at Kentucky.
UK's next game is Wednesday night, Nov. 14 when it faces North Dakota at home (SEC Network, 9 p.m. ET).
UK Athletics Photo