The No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats (3-1) got back in the win column Monday night with a eight point victory over the Utah Valley Wolverines (3-2) at Rupp Arena.
The game started with both teams struggling to find their shooting strokes as the game stayed tied at two after two minutes of play.
The offensive struggle continued into the first T.V. timeout of the half as Utah Valley led 6-5 after four and a half minutes.
After the T.V timeout, Kentucky started to get their offense rolling as Tyrese Maxey knocked down a pair of free throws, and Nick Richards completed a three-point play after being fouled on a made lay-up to put Kentucky on top 10-6.
Utah Valley did not let Kentucky make a big run; however, as Trey Woodbury hit a deep three and a jumper to keep his team within one at the half’s second T.V. timeout.
The next few minutes saw little action as both teams were held shooting below 32%, entering the third T.V. timeout with Kentucky holding onto a narrow 15-14 lead.
Quickly after the break, Utah Valley would come back to tie the game at 17 after Cadson Jardine nailed a three-pointer, but the game would not stay tied for long as Nate Sestina was able to complete a three-point the play after being fouled at the rim.
However, Utah Valley would respond right back as Woodbury nailed another three to re-tie the game. Both teams would exchange baskets heading into the final T.V. timeout of the half as Maxey hit Kentucky’s first three-pointers of the game, and Utah Valley responded with a three from Cavit Ege Havsa. Then finally, Kentucky finally started to build some momentum as Khail Whitney hit a jumper, and Ashton Hagans picked up a steal and slam as the Wildcats took a 31-25 lead into the final T.V. timeout of the first half.
The second half came to a close with Kentucky on top by eight after four points from the free-throw line by Richards.
Halftime Score: Kentucky 35, Utah Valley 27
The second half began with a pair of slams from the Wildcats as both Richards and Maxey threw down dunks with Maxey drawing a foul as well to put the Wildcats on top 40-27. Kentucky’s early second half-run continued as Keion Brooks knocked down a jumper, and the Wildcat defense held Utah Valley to just five points in the quarters first four minutes to take a 44-32 lead into the first T.V. timeout of the half.
After the T.V. timeout, Utah Valley’s TJ Washington began to catch fire as he drilled three straight three-pointers from nearly the same spot of the court to force a Kentucky timeout and pull the Wolverines within seven with 11:11 to play.
Utah Valley continued their comeback bid after the break coming within just two points of the lead, but Kentucky quickly responded with a Hagans lay-up to take a four-point lead into the third break of the half.
After the break, the Wildcats added two points at the free-throw line after Washington was called for a technical foul. Utah Valley continued to counter every Wildcat bucket, however keeping the Wildcats lead at four heading into the final T.V. timeout of the game.
With less than four minutes remaining, Utah Valley kept their hopes alive as Washington knocked down another deep three to pull the Wolverines within one at 68-67. Kentucky would quickly increase their lead; however, as Nate Sestina scored and drew a foul to put the Wildcats on top 71-67 with 2:16 to play. Then with less than a minute it was Richards with another big bucket as he scored on a put back to increase the Kentucky lead to 73-67. Despite a late three from Havsa Kentucky was able to force Utah Valley into fouling and pull away with the victory to improve to 3-1 on the season.
Final Score: Kentucky 82, Utah Valley 74
MVP: Nick Richards
It was another big night for junior Nick Richards as he recorded his second double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds to guide Kentucky to victory.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ashton Hagans
Ashton Hagans put together a bounce-back performance for the Wildcats Monday as he led all scorers with 26 points after shooting 7-14 from the field and a perfect 12-12 from the free-throw line.