The last Kentucky-Louisville game that went to overtime was the 1983 Dream Game. Today’s edition was also a classic, but ended in a much better fashion. Thanks to a trio of very big heroes, No. 19 Kentucky knocked off No. 3 Louisville in overtime 78-70. The way it happened still has my heart racing.
Let’s run through it before we all go celebrate some more.
Nick Richards had the game of his life
Nick Richards wasn’t Kentucky’s leading scorer today. He wasn’t the second leading scorer. But, he was undeniably the player of the game, in my opinion. Coming off two disappointing performances in Las Vegas, Nick stepped up in a big way, notching his fifth double double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds. That may not seem like a huge stat line in a game like this, but it was. If you count fouls drawn, he had a triple double, 13, 10, and 11.
“In Vegas and the game before that and I talked about it, and he came back and worked,” John Calipari said of Nick. “We had two great days and, really, three great days. And what I told the team is that he has to get the ball, we got to get him touches. If we can get him touches by how we’re playing, we just got to throw it to him. And Nick, you got to fight for position, so we must throw it to you. We put in a couple little wrinkle stuff for it. But the reality of it is, it was now we are playing. Proud of them, how he played in foul trouble and he still responded.”
Nick got going early, scoring and showing hustle on the boards, accounting for all three of Kentucky’s offensive rebounds in the first half. He picked up his fourth foul a little over five minutes into the second half and while he was out, the Cats struggled, allowing Steven Enoch to have his way inside and the Cards to take the lead. With just under nine minutes left, John Calipari put Nick back in and the junior responded, taking two big charges and scoring seven of Kentucky’s 17 points in overtime, including a pair of free throws to put the Cats ahead by two with 27 seconds remaining. The Bluegrass Sports Commission named Tyrese Maxey its MVP of the game, but after this win, we’ve all got Big Nick Energy.
Nick Richards with the Ls Down after a monumental performance vs. Louisville pic.twitter.com/1qePuBLara
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) December 28, 2019
Tyrese Maxey stepped into the spotlight
After going 2-20 from the outside in Kentucky’s last five games, Tyrese Maxey finally found his shot, hitting four of five threes vs. Louisville on his way to a game-high 27 points. Maxey’s effort earned him MVP honors from the Bluegrass Sports Commission and proved that yes, he can make shots and maybe, he feels it more when the lights are bright. Maxey kept Kentucky in the game when Louisville rallied late in the second half, hitting a huge bucket to put the Cats up by two with 32 seconds left. After Louisville’s Lamarr Kimble responded, Maxey misfired on what would have been the game-winner, but made up for it with two big free throws to put the game on ice with 12 seconds left in overtime.
For the first time this season, Maxey’s entire family — including his father, who has been battling health issues — was in Rupp to see him play. I know they are proud of his performance, and so are we.
Immanuel Quickley was clutch
Like Maxey, Quickley has also been in a slump lately but eventually found his groove vs. the Cards, scoring 18 points off 4-11 from the field, 2-6 from three, and most importantly, 8-8 from the free throw line. Considering how close the game was, I don’t need to tell you this, but Quickley’s free throws were huge. Before each one, the CBS cameras captured him pausing, closing his eyes, breathing, and collecting himself before squaring up to shoot. I have no idea what Immanuel was thinking, but I know his family was going nuts. Consider this a shameless plug for my article about them from a few weeks back. Whoop whoop!
Speaking of Quickley…
Kentucky held Jordan Nwora to eight points
Jordan Nwora came into the game as Louisville’s leading scorer, averaging 21.2 points per game. Tonight, the Cats held him to only eight points, 2-10 from the field. Keion Brooks started the game and drew the initial task of guarding Nwora, but Kentucky’s backcourt all took turns guarding the Louisville star, specifically Immanuel Quickley. It paid off. Nwora made some noise in overtime with a three to put the Cards ahead 68-65 but thankfully, that’s when the Cats took over.
That Coach’s Box technical by Cal could have been huge
With 4:23 left in the second half, John Calipari drew a technical foul for going outside of the coach’s box after already receiving a warning. Nwora hit a free throw and Malik Williams made a layup to pull the Cards within one, which, admit it, you thought about when the game was tied at the end of regulation. Thankfully, Kentucky took care of business in overtime, but man, that could have been costly.
Bill Murray witnessed his first loss at Rupp Arena
I’m still not okay with Bill Murray being a Louisville fan (his son is on Chris Mack’s coaching staff), but I’ll admit it was pretty cool seeing him at Rupp Arena tonight. I’m sure he’ll find ways to forget the loss. May I suggest KSBar?
What does this mean going forward?
Kentucky is now 9-3 on the season, 11-2 vs. Louisville in the John Calipari Era (11-1 thanks to Katina Powell). Tonight’s win is big and will provide a huge confidence boost heading into conference play. Against Louisville, we saw what happens when Kentucky’s shooters make shots and there is reliable production on the inside; however, less than a week ago, we saw what happens when they don’t. As good as Nick Richards was, EJ Montgomery still struggled for the most part and Kahlil Whitney and Johnny Juzang only played two minutes each. Those are still big holes that require a whole lot of faith to fill.
That being said, I’m going to enjoy this win. After a really ugly season thus far, it was great to see Kentucky not only go toe-to-toe with, but beat the No. 3 team in the country. The fact that the team was Louisville sent tonight over the top.
Ls Down Forever.