LEXINGTON, KY – Nick Richards did whatever heavy lifting No. 19 Kentucky needed against rival Louisville, intensity that put him on the brink of fouling out.
He eventually harnessed his energy into clutch contributions on both ends of the floor and celebrated big stops in the Wildcats' much-needed victory by punching the air.
Richards had 13 points, including seven in a row in overtime, and Kentucky scored the final eight points for a 78-70 victory over No. 3 Louisville on Saturday in a thrilling Bluegrass rivalry showdown.
Louisville led 68-65 on Jordan Nwora's 3-pointer with 2:20 left before Richards converted a 3-point play and added a layup to make it 70-68 with 1:23 remaning. The junior forward added two more foul shots for a 72-70 lead before Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey provided a six-point cushion from the line. Ashton Hagans' dunk with 4.9 seconds left sealed the tense win for the Wildcats (9-3) before 20,437 at Rupp Arena.
“I just played smarter," said Richards, who also had 10 rebounds, a block and took a couple of charges in the extra session. “I noticed that when they were driving on me they were lowering their shoulders on me, so I just tried to take charges on those.
Ï was really happy that they called those charges. If he (the official) had called a block, I don't know what would have happened."
While Richards provided the post presence, Maxey helped out with big baskets.
The freshman guard's free throws capped a career-best 27-point performance that topped his previous high by one in his collegiate debut against top-ranked Michigan State. For a while he seemed destined for all the praise with clutch shots during a back-and-forth second half before his teammate picked up the load in the extra session.
“I was just saying, 'we're good,'” said Maxey, who made 9 of 14 shots with four 3-pointers. “Trailing by three points with two minutes left, we had a lot of time and lot of possessions. We just had to get stops."
The overtime was the first in a regular-season game between the schools and the first since Louisville won 80-68 on March 26, 1983 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats ended a two-game losing streak in which Utah and Ohio State both shot 50% or better against them in Las Vegas. Quickley had 18 points for Kentucky, which shot 46% for its 11th win over Louisville in 13 meetings.
“This was a great win for us," Wildcats coach John Calipari said.
Steven Enoch had 18 points and Dwayne Sutton 10 for the Cardinals (11-2). Louisville shot just 40% and made just 3 of 9 in overtime. The Cards were also dreadful from the line, making just 9 of 20.
“If we ring the bell from the free throw line, I think the game is different," coach Chris Mack said. “You could probably pick out a few plays down the stretch or overtime. Make a few of those maybe the ending is different.
Kentucky had two potential game-winning chances in the final seconds of regulation, but Maxey's shot missed and Keion Brooks Jr.'s tip rolled around the basket and out to force OT.
Louisville: The Cardinals fought back from second-half deficits of 12 and six points to force OT but left a lot of points on the floor with misses from inside and outside the arc and especially at the line. High-scoring Jordan Nwora managed just a season-low eight points with one 3-pointer after entering the game averaging 21.2 points per contest.
“They did a great job of pressuring the wings, especially Jordan," Sutton said. I felt like at times they were denying him the ball which made it easier for other players to drive the lane and make plays. They cut down the driving lanes and denied Jordan the ball."
Kentucky: Though Calipari insisted this game wouldn’t make or break the Wildcats’ season, there was urgency to end the losing streak with SEC play starting next weekend. Richards provided needed strength in the post while Maxey supplied the offense, especially with clutch baskets after Louisville tightened the game and took the lead in overtime. Shutting down Nwora was a big help.
Kentucky avoided dropping out of the rankings with a much-needed win. Louisville might drop a couple of spots but remain in the Top 10.
Louisville returns to Atlantic Coast Conference play seeking a 3-0 start when it hosts Florida State on Jan. 4.
Kentucky hosts Missouri on Jan. 4 in its Southeastern Conference opener.