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Kentucky Basketball

Kentucky Tops Florida 71-70 Without Ashton Hagans

March 8, 2020
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57-39 with 11:55 to play. 51-34 with 16:53 to play. Those are the comebacks that have been made in Kentucky’s last two games. After absolutely collapsing against Tennessee earlier in the week, the Wildcats decided they wanted to switch roles and play the victor against Florida in Gainesville. Florida led for 39 minutes and 48 seconds of Saturday’s game, but Kentucky led for the most important 12 seconds and pulled off the dramatic comeback on a tip-in by EJ Montgomery. 

It was announced before the game that Ashton Hagans had not traveled with the team, allowing him to step away for personal reasons to get his head right. Down one starter, Keion Brooks got the start in Hagans’ place on a day where Kentucky’s role players stepped up big time. Kentucky trailed by 10 at the half but came roaring back due in large part to the play of Nick Richards, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half.

With the win, Kentucky finishes the regular season 25-6, going 15-3 in SEC play. They will play the winner of Tennessee and Alabama in the SEC Tournament on Friday, but before we look to the postseason, let’s go through the three biggest takeaways from the win against the Gators.

Nick Richards is a beast

This isn’t something new, but it was a nice reminder that Kentucky’s frontcourt is led by one of the best big men in the country. Nick was 1-7 in the first half, but Kentucky continued to run its offense through him and it paid off in the second half. Richards went to work in the final 20 minutes, scoring 17 of his 19 points. 

He wasn’t just getting it done on the offensive side of the ball, though. He held Kerry Blackshear scoreless and pulled down a game-high 7 rebounds. On a day where Kentucky’s guards weren’t lighting up the scoreboard, Richards confirmed his status as a force in the paint and carried Kentucky to the win.

Point Maxey can work

With Hagans out, it was Tyrese Maxey’s turn to run the point for an extended amount of time, and he showed he was more than capable. Despite going 1-11 on the day, Maxey initiated the Kentucky offense and racked up 7 assists to just one turnover. While Kentucky will get Ashton Hagans back for the postseason, it was encouraging to see a full game of Maxey at the point, which will likely be the way Kentucky closes games from now on. 

Kentucky’s bench came to play

Technically, Keion Brooks was a starter, but Kentucky’s normal bench - Brooks, Nate Sestina, and Johnny Juzang - combined for 29 points and 11 rebounds. With Hagans out and Quickley in foul trouble (he played just 21 minutes), Kentucky’s role players were forced to play more and they answered the call. Brooks and Juzang both played more minutes than they had played all season, playing 27 and 33 minutes, respectively. Almost every big play down the stretch involved at least one of them, whether it was Sestina fighting for rebounds or Brooks hitting big shots. 

In what was a true team effort, Kentucky showed it is a complete team and confidence in their 8-man rotation should be as high as it has been all year. Richards might have been the star of the game, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the play of Brooks, Sestina, and Juzang. 

 

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Kentucky Tops Florida 71-70 Without Ashton Hagans

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