By Penny Deatrick
The Kentucky Wildcats opened their SEC season with a 71-59 victory over the visiting Missouri Tigers Saturday afternoon.
Missouri, known for its very physical style of game, dominated the beginning of matchup and built a 17-9 lead before the Cats, with the help of 6-11 junior Nick Richards' scoring attack, came back with a 31-26 halftime advantage. Richards posted 17 points and eight rebounds in the opening half, his best scoring half of his career.
In the second half, UK led by as many as 16 points at 52-36 and 62-46. The Tigers couldn't get any closer than 10 down the stretch as the Wildcats brought home the victory.
Richards finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. It is his sixth double-double of the season and seventh of his career.
Kentucky coach John Calipari stated that he was proud of Nick and he “did great.” But Coach Cal expressed frustration with Richards and his back and forth with another player, saying, " 'Why would you get in a back and forth with another player when you’re playing that well?' He doesn’t have the composure because he’s never been this guy. Now he’s this guy, you have a different responsibility.”
Coach Cuonzo Martin of Missouri praised Richards and said he “was a difference maker. He’s a much improved big guy to his credit. You hate to lose games, but you love to see a young guy grow like that as a junior in college. I’m happy for him.”
Martin was pleased with the effort from his team, which dropped to 8-5. “We always need to work on something, but we lost to a good team at home," he said. "I’m not going back to the drawing board. We just didn’t finish.”
UK's Immanuel Quickley contributed a career-high 23 points In the victory. He attributed his success to extra time in the gym as well as his teammates giving him confidence to play great. “My teammates find me a great spot so, just a little bit of everything combined," added Quickley.
Kentucky's Ashton Hagans, who had seven points and seven assists, had to be helped off the floor and into the locker room with :30 left in the second half. Initial fears were an Achilles injury. Good news is that it appears to be a low ankle sprain.
Coach Cal laughingly indicated that "high ankle sprains take like two weeks. A low ankle sprain takes like 18 hours. So, he’ll be fine.” His status is listed as day-to-day.
Next up for the Wildcats, 10-3, are the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens on Tuesday night. Georgia recorded an impressive road victory against nationally-ranked Memphis Saturday.
Penny Deatrick is a contributing writer from Louisville.