After playing a couple games with just seven scholarship players, the UK men’s basketball team (4-1) is back at full strength with the return of sophomores EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley, who helped the Cats seal their 82-62 win Friday night over the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers.
Montgomery played his first game since Nov. 5 against Michigan State due to an ankle injury and Quickley missed just one game, Kentucky’s last matchup against Utah Valley, from a chest injury.
“Just super happy to be back out there,” Montgomery said after Friday’s win. “I mean, just sitting back watching from the bench was no fun, so I was glad to get on the floor with my guys again. It was the plan to get back on the court tonight, focusing on Friday and getting rehab and treatment and things like that.”
The 6-foot-10 forward posted a seven-point, six-rebound, one-assist stat line in his 15 minutes played off the bench. The Cats were also plus-29 with him on the floor.
During his absence Nick Richards had to pick up the slack in the post, which has been no problem for the junior as he put up 21 points in two games while Montgomery was sidelined. However, Richards played 34 minutes against Utah Valley and UK head coach John Calipari wants that to be about six less.
“His minutes should be about 28 minutes a game. Those extra four, he fouls at half court, exhausted, just grab the guy,” Calipari said. “All that kind of stuff, late to guard his man in the post, leaves his feet. All that stuff happens in those extra four or five minutes.”
As Montgomery starts playing more, Richards will likely get some more rest, and Calipari noted how important his return is to the team.
“The guy that made the difference is EJ. You would have never known he was not playing for a while,” Calipari said. “I mean, not having him really affects us. Having him, when he's playing, he's a difference maker.”
While Montgomery was putting up numbers down low, Quickley was adding to UK’s success around the perimeter. The Cats totaled their best three-point percentage since the Michigan State game, going 6-of-15 for 40 percent from deep. Quickley is credited with three of those treys, totaling 13 points on the night and adding two rebounds.
“It was really big for EJ (Montgomery) to be back and do what he did, that was really big and Quickley the same thing, knocking down some big shots,” sophomore Ashton Hagans said. “Both of them were rebounding and that is what we are going to need for the team to be at our best. They came in and gave us their all.”
The Cats have a quick turnaround and will face Lamar University in Rupp Arena on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 6 p.m.