If Sunday’s home contest against VMI was another audition for “separation” among UK’s elite talent, then PJ Washington proved once again that he’s the undisputed leader of the band.
The 6-7 sophomore was the featured attraction on Sunday afternoon with a gritty performance that resulted in 12 first half rebounds (18 for the game) as the Kentucky Wildcats rolled to a 92-82 win at Rupp Arena.
Tied at 24-24 with 7:01 left in the opening half, Washington and Reid Travis literally took over the paint as the duo combined on 11-of-13 free throws to help the Cats go on a 24-10 run and never look back. Travis led the Cats with 22 points, while Washington and Quade Green added 19 and 17, respectively.
With a barrage of deep three-pointers, VMI cut the lead to 85-79 with 1:38 left in the game as UK was forced to call a timeout. On the next possession, Green nailed a three-pointer of his own to move the lead to 88-79 and secure the win.
VMI’s Bubba Parham led VMI with 35 points, including several deep three-pointers that even had UK Coach John Calipari shaking his head in disbelief on the sidelines. VMI was 19-for-38 from behind the three-point line.
Here’s a recap of what John Calipari and several players had to say about the win, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Q. When a guy goes off for 35 like that, are you frustrated with your defense, or do you just tip your hat to the kid?
JOHN CALIPARI: He made some crazy ones now. And Eric just said that he was one off the record from another kid that played against our team that I’ve coached. And how many did -- what was the other kid, the Texas A&M kid? He scored 40. So I’m a pretty good defensive coach with high-scoring players. I was really impressed that we played as well as we did against the zone. Because you understand it’s, again, we haven’t spent much time on it based on where we are trying to get to, where we’re comfortable how we are playing against man-to-man.
The first half I thought we had our chances to spread it out a little bit, we held them to 40 percent. Second half I think we got tired. They were running us around and guys just stopped. All of a sudden they’re shooting layups. And hats off, I thought they did a great job and those kids made shots. And it wasn’t just the one kid making shots. They made 19. So there were nine others that we left corners, we did that three times. We left a corner, which if you know for 10 years I’ve been here, we don’t leave corners. This team leaves corners. We started trapping late and I guess the fans are looking at me like why wouldn’t you just start trapping this kid? And probably should have. But won’t be the first -- last time or first time that we need to play a little bit different. But, again, I was happy for PJ (Washington), 19-and-19 or 18-and-19. I was happy for Reid (Travis). Quade (Green) played really well. Quade’s playing really good basketball right now. He really is.
Q. What should we make that your guys did not get caught up in a three-point shooting contest? You guys seemed to go inside, use your size.
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, they’re trying. Again, the only thing that bothered me a couple times is we had some ball stoppers versus the zone. The ball’s got to fly around that court. But again, we haven’t worked on it. And when it flew around the court we either posted it easy against the spread defense or we got a drive. Look, we shot 50 percent and only had 11 turnovers. So I mean we did some good stuff. We shot 35 percent from the 3 and we still have a couple guys that can’t make a 3 right now. But there was good. We have 18 offensive rebounds. We out-rebounded them by 21 rebounds. There was some good here except they went crazy on the 3s.
Now, I’ve got to go and watch this tape and watch every single 3. Because you guys that do the numbers, if you look historically from my time here, my guess is our 3-point shooting defense is usually around 30 percent. 29, 31, right now we’re probably at 40 percent. And so some of that is, if you ask me, how much have you worked on that. We haven’t done much and we haven’t talked to them about it much. So now we’re going to have to look and say, our league, everybody’s shooting, they’re making 10 3s, nine 3s, eight 3s, seven, the least amount is like seven. So if we go into a league and we cannot guard the 3, we’re going to have problems. So, but thank goodness, what’s the date? Is this still November? Tell me it’s still November. Is it barely? What is it? Okay. Tomorrow’s my daughter’s birthday. It’s not. It’s not the 19th. It’s the -- it’s the 23rd. I know when her birthday is. I hope it’s the 23rd.
Q. What do you like about Quade’s (Green) doing now compared to even, say, two weeks ago?
JOHN CALIPARI: I think he’s really playing hard. He’s really defending, he’s trying. And then he has a knack offensively for making baskets. And if you put it in his hands he’ll normally, as long as it’s not against a set defense, if that ball moves and he gets it and it’s a two-man game, something good is going to happen. And late in the game he will make a shot and he will make free throws. He’s proven that. So he’s doing what we’re asking. He’s doing better every day. And in practice right now my guess is he’s working harder than anybody else.
Q. You were in a defensive set about midway through the first half, or later than that, where your guards were denying the ball to the other guards when the big had it at the top. What forced y’all to move away from that, because you seemed to be running them into shot blockers? Were ya’ll fouling them too much, or what was going on there?
JOHN CALIPARI: No, we got tired. It’s not like I changed what we were doing. We were trying to fight over those and wall up a little bit with the big. We were saying let’s not give them 3s, make them bounce it, we’re deflecting, we’re getting turnovers. And then if you look we end up creating only 13 turnovers and my guess is that at half if they didn’t make a 3 they turned it over or we deflected. So, but again, it’s the discipline that you need, this team doesn’t have yet, of full possessions, of every trip down the floor. And it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to make a shot. They made five or six, seven shots that you’re like, dude, that’s almost at half court. But we had hands down and we’re talking in every huddle, you have to have your hands up on the guy. And his hands were down and the kid (Bubba Parhm) was feeling it. I tell you what, hats off to him. He made 10-16. I haven’t seen that.
Q. Where does this team rank in terms of forcing you to have defensive concentration for the full 30 seconds, and how hard that is for young guys to get a handle on that?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well the biggest thing is, if we do what we normally do and they take 38 3s, they’re going to make 10 of those and you’re getting run outs and layups and the score’s different. They just kept making them. And then we had a couple breakdowns late. We lose a 3-point, the kid in the corner, like total denial, why would you leave him? Well, I had my hand up. Why did you leave him? Have you not watched the game? And then we come down and make an offensive error, which gives them a chance to beat us. It’s a great lesson. It’s a great lesson in that we still won. Like I told the guys after, when somebody makes 19 3s, you win that game? I don’t care who it is. They made 19 3s and we won the game, which means offensively and rebounding and our post-up stuff, we did some good stuff. Like I said, we’ve got a long way to go. This is, I hate to tell you, this is going to be a grind. Everybody’s trying to establish themselves, which is a natural thing. And as they do that it’s hard to really be in sync defensively. And even offensively at times.
Q. What was your thinking on bringing Reid (Travis) off the bench and E.J. Montgomery starting? And how did you think that played out?
JOHN CALIPARI: I will watch the tape. I don’t know. I thought E.J. fouled twice, so obviously it didn’t work, but I said, let’s look at this. I’m trying to make it -- okay, Nick (Richards) comes off the bench, he gets 19. PJ Washington comes off the bench, he gets 25. Who cares who starts? Unless your ego and it’s not about our team, who really cares. Today Reid (Travis) came off the bench. He had 22. I mean would you rather have five and start? ‘Yeah, because I like that introduction.’ Really? You like the introduction. ‘Yeah, the introduction. Did you see the introduction? They cheered for me. It’s unbelievable.’ Yeah, but you had five points. ‘Yeah, but I’m okay.’ What? You have 22, 19 rebounds -- who cares who starts? Especially right now where I’m just trying to figure out this team.
Q. You said after the Southern Illinois game that you felt like you were kind of getting a handle and kind of know what you wanted to do. After two more games do you still feel that way?
JOHN CALIPARI: We’re getting better. Oh, thank God. But I’ve had to go back to day one of training camp and start all over. So it’s, it took us three weeks, four weeks to get to where we were and now it’s going to probably take that long to get back to it, to where we need to be. And every time we were working on lunging, I’m telling you, I watched the -- we lunged, we did everything we wanted -- and then there’s -- you only got four fingers and a thumb and there’s water. And so you -- and then all of a sudden 3-point shooting defense, okay it’s shooting out, now you’re trying to -- I mean it’s what it is for us. But I do know this, we’re physically tough, we can rebound like crazy, I love the fact that we can throw it to the post. I love the fact that we’re an offensive rebounding team. I’m going to say it again, we should be a better 3-point shooting team. I mean we had two guys that I would expect to make threes go 1-6, Immanuel (Quickley) and Tyler (Herro). That’s 1-6. I would expect them to make 4-6. And so we, it’s feeling comfortable and getting Tyler, I was begging him the whole game to shoot. They’re in the zone, man, shoot it, catch it and get ready to shoot. This is a process and that -- I wish we could skip steps, I tried, how did that work? Doesn’t work. Now we’re back to where we need to be and.
Q. When somebody like PJ (Washington) goes off for 18 rebounds do you say, okay, that’s your new standard?
JOHN CALIPARI: Why don’t you ask him that?.Is that your new standard. If I’m PJ -- because what it shows is motor. It shows motor. Okay. So if I’m PJ, I’m rebounding against nine players, their five and four of ours. That’s just me. And what a great thing to be selfish about, wouldn’t you say? Go get every one. But I’ll tell you, again, hard because you got to work, you go to the fight, you’re in there battling people, and there’s going to be guys who are going to just say, block out him on every possession. And early in the game it’s going to be a fight, as the game goes on you’ll get by a guy, get a couple, get a dunk or you can say, this guy’s never going to let me get by. That’s that next level for he and Reid and E.J. and even Nick.
Q. At the 5:30 mark in the first half you guys went on a 12-0 run. Eight lead changes up to that point, it was a one-point game, what were you guys able to do during that stretch?
JOHN CALIPARI: I’ll have to watch. I thought we defended better, they missed some shots, we got some break outs. I thought we had a steal, a run through steal, we did some stuff, but I’ll have to watch the tape. I knew we got the game stretched out and it got to 19 and I’m thinking, okay, let’s get this to 25. All of a sudden you turn around it’s 14. 13, then it’s 12. What the? What in the world? And again it’s hard because I know we played pretty good against the zone that we haven’t -- that’s the first time we played against zone. We play against ourselves, but and we haven’t done it much, so I was pleased with that and again there was things I was pleased with, but we just, it’s, this is going to be a process and it’s not easy, it’s not easy for these kids, it’s not easy for our fans. And I would tell our fans, I said it on the radio, you should never be upset with these kids, they’re 17 and 18 and 19, they’re doing exactly what I’m trying to get them to do. Be mad at me. Be mad at me. You don’t need to be mad at the kids. Cheer them on, it’s hard to play here. I mean, VMI came in, this was a big deal and when their kid, Bubba (Parham), Bubba goes nuts, believe me, his grandchildren will be watching that video in Rupp Arena in front of -- I mean, that’s every game we play is this way. And so they don’t need anything extra, they just need to just get better and you’ll break through and try to continue to talk on those terms. And here was the other thing. That locker room, even though there’s some guys that really didn’t play well, they better be happy for PJ, happy for Reid, happy for Quade, hugging those guys. So when you play well they hug you. That’s a learning process too. If I don’t play well I’m mad. We won. We won a game we easily could have lost. So anyway, thanks, guys.
On if he’s ever had to go against a guy like Bubba Parham who shot the 3 as well…
“A couple times, but not just making it like that—he was just throwing it up and making everything. So, it was the game plan. They told us that he could come out and score like that, but we’ve just got to move onto the next game and try to work on that—not giving up that many 3-pointers. So, in practice we’ll just see what the game plan is for the next game.”
On his first half…
“It felt good. You know, I got a little steal, got the basket. So I just felt like I was going. Felt much better than I was in other games. I felt like I got my confidence back, just with the guys picking me up at practice just telling me I need to start shooting more, attacking more, you know, like I’m one of the guys that can help this team to another level. So, just hearing that from them, that just makes me want to go out on the court for my brothers and just get the win.”
On how comfortable he feels now as opposed to a few weeks ago…
“I feel way comfortable. You know, talking with (John) Calipari, talking with the staff, just telling me to play my game, attack, get everybody open, set up the offense, play up on defense, keep my man in front of me and just try to come out with a ‘W,’ like I said.”
On what defensive measures the team took to secure the win…
“Well, in the game plan we’ve seen that there was like a Princeton offense setup, so know all the backdoor cuts. So, we were just trying to work on that, get over their screens if we had to, twirl if we had to. So, it was just like going over the game plan, just talking. What we need to start working on more is just talking way more on the defensive side of the ball. We’re going to get it on the offensive side. But as we get better on defense, as practice goes on, that’s just what we need to work on the most is talking.”
On playing against a player that is on fire …
“I’m not sure, he was lighting us up tonight. He did a great job with what he was doing, I was trying to compete with him.”
On finding a way to win after a team hits 19 threes …
“We always got to find a way to win, anything is possible, really. I don’t care if they outrebounded us, or it being a close game, they came out on fire tonight because we’re Kentucky. However, we came back with some fire as well.”
On how much he has changed from last year to this year …
“Having more confidence, really. I know I’m a veteran guy now so I have to be more of a leader. This year, I’m way more confident.”
On Cal saying he’s the hardest working player …
“I’m just competing, getting in the gym with my teammates. I had to change myself in order for my game to change.”
On Cal saying that this year will be a grind…
“It’s a process. You can’t rush anything even though we have a good team. We play in a very good conference and everybody has to stay focused.”
On having 18 rebounds…
“I thought I rebounded pretty well tonight. I tried to get in on the offensive end and tried to rebound every shot we missed. That was the game plan for us and I just tried to execute.”
On using other shots, besides 3’s, to their advantage…
“We knew the advantage was high, so we just tried to bring it in and give the ball to Reid (Travis) or even E.J. Montgomery and just tried to go in and get the ball up to get the rebound. We felt like we were a lot better and that’s what we did. They were making shots, so we just had to make stops.”
On attitude towards rebounding tonight...
“I just tried to go up and get it. I didn’t want the other team to get it, so I felt like I needed to get it and that’s what I did.”
On Reid (Travis) coming off the bench…
“I think Reid’s a team player. He doesn’t really care about that, he cares about winning. That’s pretty much all the guys here. We are all fans of each other and we are each other’s biggest fans.”