No. 8 Kentucky finally has it easy against Fort Wayne, 86-67
By GARY B. GRAVES
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) How No. 8 Kentucky finally won comfortably pleased coach John Calipari as much as the fact his young team ran away from Fort Wayne.
Nick Richards' breakout performance was among many areas where Calipari praised his young Wildcats.
Richards had career highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds, and 70 percent first-half shooting propelled Kentucky to an 86-67 rout Wednesday night.
Kentucky's 19-of-27 shooting before halftime countered the Mastodons' eight 3-pointers that kept them close for a while. Fort Wayne's perimeter shots started missing once the Wildcats began defending them, and it couldn't match the length or speed of the young Wildcats (5-1).
Kentucky eventually led 78-48 with 6:50 remaining on the way to its most decisive win this season.
"We got better," said Calipari, whose team earned three of its four wins by 10 points or fewer. "The zone (defense) looked good. The zone kind of stymied them a little bit. It's nice that we can go to that thing a little bit if we need to, but we're still learning."
Meanwhile, Richards was in a zone of his own.
The 6-foot-11 freshman thrived in both halves and on both ends, making 9 of 10 from the field and all seven free throws for his first career double-double. Richards' previous highs were 10 points in the opener against Utah Valley and nine rebounds against No. 3 Kansas. He also had two of Kentucky's three blocks.
"It was a good win for me and my team," said Richards, who credited sports psychologist Bob Rotella and assistant coach Kenny Payne for improving his game and mindset. "We just came out here to have a ball, just try to have fun. I just happened to have 25 (points) and 15 (rebounds)."
Calipari added of Richards, "Yeah, he was pretty good today. ... I was just happy for how he was reaching for balls and the stuff that he was doing."
Quade Green, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each added 11 points as Kentucky shot a season-best 33 of 55 (60 percent) and dominated the rebounding 44-21.
Fort Wayne: A year after upsetting Indiana, the Mastodons led Kentucky 37-36 with 3:51 left in the first half behind 8-of-22 shooting from long range. They went cold from outside and elsewhere after that and the Wildcats pounced to lead at the break and stretch the advantage to 30 points in the second half. The Mastodons' 12 3-pointers were their third-highest total this season, but they made just 4 of 15 after the break.
"They started fronting us and that's where the game changed," coach Jon Coffman said. "Those last 5 minutes (of the first half), first 5 (of the second) were where we let it get away from us."
Kentucky: Something had to give after all those tense performances and the Wildcats thrived because of their size and best shooting effort this season. Richards couldn't be stopped on either end, and teammates seemed in sync for the first time. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel came up just short of a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.
Well known in golf for his sports psychology books and speeches, Rotella is also a friend of Calipari, who suggested that Richards call him to discuss the mental aspect of basketball. The two talked for at least 30 minutes before Kentucky faced Troy, resulting in a career-best effort.
"He just told me that before games to not think about basketball, just find something else to keep my mind off basketball," said Richards, who hadn't heard of Rotella. "I just watched videos of a guy named Shiggy (on YouTube). He's pretty funny, so I watch him all the time."
Fort Wayne forward Xzavier Taylor tried to make it look like Calipari hit him in the face as he dived for a loose ball out of bounds in front of Kentucky's bench. Problem was, the coach was moving away from the action and pointing toward the Wildcats' basket when Taylor moved toward him before falling backward and holding his face as if he had been hit. No call was made in an apparent case of extreme flopping.
"(He) took a dive? Good for him," Calipari joked. "It's going to get him on SportsCenter. The kid is smart."
Kentucky hosts Illinois-Chicago on Sunday to wrap up the Rupp Classic before getting a few days off.
Fort Wayne visits East Tennessee State on Saturday. ETSU lost 78-31 to Kentucky last Friday.
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Updated November 23, 2017