MBB vs. Vanderbilt

Kentucky sophomore forward Nick Richards dives for a loose ball during the game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won with a final score of 56-47. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

In the SEC, physicality is at a premium, no matter what sport is being played. After games, coaches will sit at press conference tables and celebrate the presence or lament the lack of physicality from their team that ultimately decided the game.

On a chilly Saturday night, after the first Lexington snow of 2019, plenty of physicality took place inside Rupp Arena. Vanderbilt was visiting UK’s men’s basketball team, and the Cats had to be ready to play one of their most physical games of the season.

The physicality of the game doesn’t show up in the box score, however. The final result was a 56-47 slugfest victory for the Cats that saw only 28 total fouls called throughout the game. The fouls don’t tell the complete story, however, as point guard Ashton Hagans pointed out after the game.

“The refs aren’t going to give us nothing easy,” the freshman said after the win. “we’ve just got to go out there and fight, knowing that we’re all on the court, we’re playing against eight [opponents] every night so we just know we’re all out there together, just fighting.”

Hagans wasn’t the only person feeling the intensity of the game. In the second half, Nick Richards took an elbow to the head from Commodore wing Matthew Moyer. Richards was diving to the floor for a loose ball, and as Richards was securing it, Moyer came diving to the floor and caught Richards across the face. The play was reviewed for a potential flagrant foul, but the end ruling was that no foul was committed – flagrant or otherwise.

Later that half, Richards went up for a lob from Hagans, and fell awkwardly. The physicality of the game was taking its toll, and he was slow to get up and walk down the floor.

UK head coach John Calipari beckoned Reid Travis off the bench to give Richards time to recover. Richards saw the substitution coming and waved it off, still catching his breath. As Calipari was confirming that Richards didn’t want to be substituted, Richards hopped around and received an ovation from the 22,504 fans in attendance.

“He was getting tired, but I wanted to see him tough through that, which he did,” Calipari said after the game. “We’re just… we have to be more desperate for 40 minutes.”

One of the players that expressed desperation against the Commodores was Hagans, who went down late in the second half with a lower back injury.

He hit a floater that he wasn’t fouled on but landed awkwardly and was clutching his lower back. He needed help to stand up and walk to the bench. He never went into the locker room and checked back into the game minutes later.

“He’s a tough kid,” Calipari said. “I gave him a minute. I said, ‘you’ve got one minute and you’re going back.’”

Couple both of these events with a pair of accidental kicks to the groin and spectacularly bad three-point shooting, and the Cats were in a real battle with the visiting Commodores.

UK wing Keldon Johnson spoke on the importance of keeping cool during games like that, saying that “we don’t really get caught into the dirty plays, the elbows, anything like that. We go out there, play, do what we’re supposed to do, don’t try to pick up any stupid fouls or anything like that.”

The game left no players injured moving forward, but plenty were slow to get up from the floor. As they move forward in SEC play, the Cats will be prepared for more hard-hitting battles like the one they had Saturday night.