No. 19 Kentucky beats No. 3 Louisville, 78-70, in OT

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Kentucky beats Louisville in overtime, 78-70, on Saturday thanks to a career-high 27 points from Tyrese Maxey.

Nick Richards chipped in with 13 points and 10 boards, playing the best basketball of his young career down the stretch.

Maxey caught fire early, scoring 13 points in the first half and making nine of his first 12 shots, but it was the play of Richards down the stretch that won this game for the 19th-ranked Wildcats. The oft-maligned 7-foot junior center picked up his fourth foul with 12 minutes left in the game. He played almost the entirety of the final eight minutes and overtime with those four fouls, drawing two key charges and picking up a couple of critical offensive rebounds, to lead the Wildcats to the win.

Jordan Nwora once against struggled for No. 3 Louisville. He had eight points and hit a huge three with just over two minutes left in overtime, but he did not take a single field goal in the entire second half and finished the night with just eight points on 2-for-11 shooting from the floor.

Immanuel Quickley had a career-high 18 points in the wing for Kentucky. Steve Enoch scored 18 points to lead the way for the Cardinals while Dwayne Sutton chipped in with 14 points and 10 boards of his own.

(AP Photo/James Crisp)

Here are the three things we can take away from a night where Kentucky beat Louisville in overtime:

1. IS KENTUCKY FINALLY PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER?

We’ve seen this story before.

Kentucky struggles for the first six or seven weeks of the season, they start playing elite competition as the fears start to build and then, in a marquee game on national television against an elite opponent, they pick up a massive, statement win.

That’s precisely what happened here.

Kentucky did not look like themselves during the early part of the season, lost back-to-back games in Las Vegas and then headed into Christmas break with the college basketball-loving world wondering if this team had the ability to put it all together and play up to their preseason ranking.

Saturday should be the answer that you need.

What’s significant about this win isn’t just that Tyrese Maxey looked awesome, or that Ashton Hagans was locking everyone up, or that Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards (more on him in a second) got it going. It’s that they were able to add another marquee non-conference win to a resume that isn’t going to look all that impressive with losses to Evansville and Utah to their name. With the SEC looking like it is going to be a two-team race, that matters for seeding in March.

Now, don’t mistake that for me saying Kentucky is a finished product. Kentucky really needs to figure out what they’re going to do at the four. E.J. Montgomery isn’t the answer. Keion Brooks and Nate Sestina both are fine in specific matchups – which, frankly, might be enough – while Kahlil Whitney needs more seasoning.

There is still plenty of room for them to grow.

But the point here is that we are always seeing some of that growth, the proof being that …

2. … NICK RICHARDS PLAYED THE BEST GAME OF HIS LIFE

I have never considered myself a Nick Richards fans. Even on the AAU circuit I never understood why anyone thought that he was more than simply that was tall and long and athletic.

Through four games against high-major competition in what was supposed to be his breakout junior season, Richards was averaging 6.5 points and 3.0 boards while spending more time on the bench in foul trouble than on the floor impacting the game.

Then Saturday happened.

And while he still dealt with the foul issues – albeit with a couple of ticky-tack calls that weren’t entirely necessary – he was a monster. Richards had 13 points and 10 boards, but more importantly, he made four massive hustle plays down the stretch while playing with those four fouls. He drew two offensive fouls on big possessions and he freed up two offense rebounds while battling with Louisville’s bigs.

He was a monster, and given that Coach Cal is at his best when he has big, athletic fives that can do all of the things that Richards did on Saturday, I think the important of his breakout game is self-explanatory.

3. THIS WAS ACTUALLY A PROMISING PERFORMANCE FROM LOUISVILLE

The biggest knock of Louisville this season is that they are a team that is forced to ride or die with Jordan Nwora because they don’t have anyone else on the roster that is capable of creating for themselves. This is why they looked so bad offensively against Michigan and Texas Tech, and why they struggled so much in the first half against Kentucky. Through the first 100 minutes that the Cardinals have played against elite defenses this season, they had mustered a total of 139 points in 171 possessions, or 0.813 PPP. For reference, the best defenses in college basketball hover around the 0.850 PPP allowed range.

It’s not a coincidence that, in that same time frame, Jordan Nwora was 14-for-47 from the floor and 3-for-17 from three.

That’s relevant because, in the second half and overtime on Saturday afternoon, Nwora more or less played as a decoy. Kentucky face-guarded him wherever he was on the floor, and he simply got out of the way. That’s when he wasn’t actually on the bench. Louisville erased a 12-point second half deficit against the Wildcats on Saturday, and the run to regain a foothold in the game came when Nwora was out.

Steve Enoch finished with 18 points, knocking down a three and getting his back-to-the-basket game going. Dwayne Sutton had 14 points and 10 boards, making some key defensive plays and picking up a few critical loose balls.

But the most important performance came from Fresh Kimble, a grad transfer point guard from St. Joe’s that currently backs up Darius Perry. He had 12 points and four assists, making some crucial plays in the second half to keep the Cardinals moving in the right direction. Point guard play has been the biggest concern for Louisville this season, and playing arguably the best team in what was definitely the toughest venue they’ve seen this year, Kimble had his best game. Someone needs to be able to make plays to create easy offense for people not named Nwora, and Kimble – along with Sutton, Enoch and even Darius Perry, to a point – were able to do that and bring Louisville back.

That’s big, even if it comes in a loss.