Nick Richards gives Kentucky a lift at Georgia
Kentucky’s leading scorer, Keldon Johnson, did not score a point. Coach John Calipari was giddy.
“Oh, he had a goose egg,” Calipari said after Kentucky won 69-49 at Georgia Tuesday night. “Ooooooh. He didn’t have any (points). Oooh. Isn’t that great?”
Calipari then explained what he meant. He repeated the message he delivered on Monday: numbers do not matter. Kentucky can thrive even when its leading scorer has zero points. “The greatest thing about our team is we’ve got guys,” he said of UK’s depth. “And if one of your guards doesn’t play well, we have another guard who can play well.”
The same is true of UK’s big men, he said.
The proof came in the form of a 20-point victory. It was only the third time UK won by 20 or more points at Georgia since 1997.
Johnson, who missed all six of his shots (one from three-point range), need not fret about going scoreless, Calipari said. “Because Keldon played this way, no one is going to think less of him,” the UK coach said. “He had no points, and they’re still going to say, ‘Oh, that kid is one of the best in the country.’
“It’s not high school (where a star player says), ‘I’m going to shoot all the balls, so I’ll be the center of attention.’ That thing is done the rest of their basketball careers.”
Calipari cited less anxiety as a reason for Nick Richards’ “unbelievable” night. Richards’ four points were his second-highest total since Nov. 28. His seven rebounds were the most he has grabbed since getting 19 against Southern Illinois on Nov. 9. His three blocks equaled a season high.
“There’s some anxiety” among UK players, Calipari said. “They’re pressing personally. ‘I got to have it. I got to play. I got to be the center (of attention).’
“Then you can’t play. Nick led the troops with that. That anxiety. That pressure. ... He just played tonight. He scored four points. It didn’t matter. Anybody would want him on their team.”
After the game, Richards seemed anything but anxious as he reflected on his role.
“Just bring that spark off the bench we need,” he said.
Richards said he shrugged off Georgia’s five dunks inside the first six minutes.
“In my mind, I was thinking these are just two points,” he said. “It’s not going to win the whole game. ... That was my mindset. These are not touchdowns.”
Ashton Hagans, who grew up in Cartersville, Ga., acknowledged that he was a Georgia football fan. “Oh yeah, of course,” he said.
Hagans added that he rooted for UK’s football team. “They’re my boys, too,” he said.
But when Kentucky played Georgia, Hagans rooted for the Bulldogs.
“I ain’t going to lie to you,” he told reporters. “I did.”
The play capping an 8-0 run that put Kentucky ahead 55-39 featured Hagans throwing a lob that fellow freshman EJ Montgomery dunked.
“He’s been down a little bit,” Hagans said of Montgomery. “You know I just had to find him and get him going. That’s my guy. From there, I guess he’s going to start playing good.”
Montgomery’s six points and 14 minutes were the most he has scored and played since Dec. 1. His six rebounds were his most since Nov. 23.
“I’m telling him, ‘Look at Ashton,’” Calipari said. “‘You’re as good a player as we have on this team. But you’ve got to go and fight. And you’ve got to do it. I can’t do it for you.
“‘Other than that, I’m trying to win a game. And if you’re not helping, I’m not going to play you that game. I still think you’re a terrific player. I’ll play you next game.’”
Georgia’s Stegemen Coliseum has a new look. As part of a $20 million renovation, Georgia replaced the red seats with black.
An overhead scoreboard/video board over center court was not there the last time Kentucky played at Georgia (Feb. 18, 2017).
Former UK star Tony Delk substituted for Mike Pratt as analyst on the radio broadcast of the game. Pratt, who is dealing with a medical issue, underwent surgery Tuesday.
Pratt expects to miss Saturday’s game at Auburn and then return to the radio team for next Tuesday’s home game against Mississippi State. Delk will work with play-by-play announcer Tom Leach at Auburn on Saturday.