LEXINGTON — Although Thanksgiving Day has ended, Kentucky refused to end the holiday weekend without giving Big Blue Nation one more reason to be thankful.
The ninth-ranked Wildcats continued their string of double-digit victories with a 69-58 win over the University of Alabama Birmingham on Friday night in Rupp Arena.
Since a 67-64 loss to Evansville earlier this month, Kentucky has won four straight, all in the BBN Showcase, which came to a close with the win over the Blazers.
Coming off of Sunday’s 81-56 win over Lamar, the Wildcats (6-1) overpowered UAB by pounding the ball inside the post to wear down the Blazers. Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery scored 16 points each and tallied eight points in each half to pace Kentucky’s offense.
Richards, who also celebrated his 22nd birthday Friday, scored 10 of those points on alley-top dunks and is starting to assert himself as an experienced post player. Richards has scored double figures in three straight games and is becoming more of a consistent player, putting an end to questions regarding his athleticism.
“I feel like I’m moving past those questions,” he said. “I’m just trying to be myself, get in the gym each and every night to get better as a basketball player and just try to find out what little things I can improve upon.”
Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans has noticed a difference in Richards during the past two weeks.
“He has been the first one out on the court at practice these past few weeks,” he said. (He has been) getting up some shots. He has been talking to us more and that's what we need from him to be at our best. He just has a swagger out there about him that no one can knock off."
Richards attributed much of his performance against the Blazers to Montgomery and added he feels comfortable playing alongside his sidekick in the post.
“The chemistry that we have together is chemistry that we have from last year, he said. “It’s getting better and better each game this year and it’s a work in progress that we have. I saw that EJ was scoring a lot. I was trying to keep feeding him and let him go to work.
Montgomery’s performance helped ease the absence of Nate Sestina, who fractured his wrist earlier this week and will miss from four to six weeks. Sestina had surgery on the no-shooting hand Wednesday and cheered on his teammates from the bench Friday night.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Montgomery said. “Nate was great for our team, so I feel like I just needed to step it up to contribute to getting a win.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari was pleased with the performances by his two post players.
“He was good today,” Calipari said of Montgomery. “He was good. Nick was good. Nick rebounded above the rim, snatched balls, makes us different.”
Blazers coach Robert Ehsan agreed.
“When they can play the two bigs together, again I think it adds another (element on) both ends of the floor,” he said. “It can be really, really tough to match on the other side from different opponents."
The outing by Montgomery was a season-high and the sophomore forward is confident he can continue the trend in the future. Montgomery added two blocks and scored double figures for the third time in his career.
“It was good knowing that I can be a shooter,” he said. “I’ve been working on it, I’ll continue to keep working on it, it wasn’t going down at first but I’m not going to stop shooting, I’m just going to continue to shoot and get better every day.”