A day after John Calipari said he thought Nick Richards would be better by this point, Richards turned in arguably his best performance as a Wildcat.
The sophomore center finished his second game of the season with eight points, three blocks and a career-high 19 rebounds. Richards’ 19 rebounds is tied for the most rebounds any player has secured in the Calipari-era since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 19 rebounds against Louisville in 2011.
Nine of Richards’ 19 rebounds came off the offensive glass, which also ties the most any Kentucky player has had in the Calipari-era with Willie Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.
“My team needed somebody to get rebounds cause Reid (Travis) was out of the game,” Richards said of his performance after the game. “They needed energy and effort so I just had to put myself in the game through energy by complimenting that, and that’s through rebounds.”
With Travis and P.J. Washington spending most of the game on the bench, Richards had to step up and fill the hole in the paint. Richards played 27 minutes Friday night, which is the most minutes he’s played in his career.
Richards not only did his part off the glass, he made an impact on defense with the three blocked shots. When Richards is playing defense the way he did against SIU, it’s hard to keep him off the floor, according to his head coach.
“We need Nick on the court,” Calipari said in his postgame press conference. “I knew 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.”
Richards was someone Southern Illinois’ head coach Barry Hinson didn’t want on the court. Hinson said after the game that Richards and Travis were the focal points to SIU’s game plan, and they wanted to keep their production to a minimum.
“We didn’t want them to get jump-started, we wanted the guards to beat us, and that was a big deal to us,” Hinson said.
Richards was one of the few players who responded the way Calipari hoped his players would respond after the Duke loss. Thursday’s practice, the only practice in between the two games, was more challenging and grueling compared to previous practices, because Calipari was hoping to show the team how tough this season really is going to be.
At practice, Calipari keeps a treadmill constantly running on 17 miles per hour, and when a player doesn’t hold themselves accountable, that player spends 30 seconds on that speedy treadmill.
“So it is holding their feet to the fire to say this is what’s acceptable, and what you’ll see is a much more disciplined basketball team,” Calipari said.
Richards played more disciplined against SIU, which is what led to his great performance. He had his fair share of mistakes like the rest of the players, but Calipari can live with that if he plays disciplined and with effort.
“If he’ll fight and go after balls and block shots, we can deal with the rest of it, Calipari said.