For the second-straight Saturday, the Wildcats demolished one of the SEC’s better teams. After doing so to Tennessee last week, it was the Auburn Tigers who fell victim this time.
Sophomore forward PJ Washington scored 24 points to lead the Cats to an 80-53 win over the Tigers. Washington led three players in double figures and helped lead Kentucky to a regular-season sweep of the Tigers.
The Wildcats (23-4, 12-2 in SEC) got 17 points 17 points from freshman guard Tyler Herro, while freshman point guard Ashton Hagans chipped in 14 points and five assists.
Between the final minutes of the first half and the first 9:20 of the second half, Kentucky went on a 29-3 run in what was one of its best stretches of the season.
Kentucky played without senior forward Reid Travis, who sprained his right ankle win at Missouri on Tuesday. That led to freshman forward EJ Montgomery starting in Travis’ absence and scored six points with seven boards, two steals and three blocks.
Freshman guard Keldon Johnson scored just eight points but grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds, as Kentucky beat Auburn 43-24 on the boards.
Next up for the Cats is the Arkansas Razorbacks on Tuesday night, as Kentucky will look to continue to show that they are one of the best teams in the entire country that should have a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to talk about the game. Here is a recap of everything they had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Q. What did you think of Keldon (Johnson)’s board work today and the overall board work?
JOHN CALIPARI: Keldon told on himself today. If he thinks he’s getting two rebounds next game, I’m going to be all over him. He told on himself. You’re able to get that many rebounds? You’re able to go above the rim against a team like that, that rebounds like crazy, offensively?
But we had worked and said, look, they are going to shoot threes, and he went after the ball. He was screaming to grab balls, too. Grabbed them with two hands.
Really proud of him. He knew how many points he was having. He tried to get those other points to get that double-double so bad. Shot that three and I said, why don’t you drive it, because he thought, well, if I get three, I got it. Missed that layup. Killed himself. Missed that free throw, he wanted to stab himself in the eye. He knew exactly what he had.
Q. PJ (Washington) had four threes in the first half, five in the game and he only made five all of last season. How many hours of work went into that and did he --
JOHN CALIPARI: You have to ask him, but I’ll tell you, he’s not the same player, and the biggest thing is, he got in great condition.
So now he can play basketball and, are you ready for this, you can think. If you’re not in shape, your whole thought is about, I’m dying out here. You’re not thinking ahead. You’re not anticipating. He’s in great, great condition. And he’s playing like the best player in the country right now. He really is.
Now what I was proud of, how many threes did we take in the second half? Seven. We don’t really on threes. I walked in at halftime and we had 17, and I couldn’t believe it. But guess what, if you’re feeling it, go for it, and they were feeling it, so I just didn’t say anything.
Second half, though, we drove the ball. We got to the foul line a little bit and created good shots. You know, 15 assists. So, we did some good stuff.
Q. Can you just talk about Ashton (Hagans)’ overall play, and also, not just that he made shots, but he seemed to take them with confidence today, or it looked like it.
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s been working. He’s been in the gym at night. He’s staying after practice. He’s not a bad shooter.
But confidence, you have to build it yourself, and the only way you do that is get in the gym and build your confidence and then, you ready, got to make a couple in the game. That’s how confirm to yourself to be a confident shooter.
You know, I’m happy for him because he’s really -- when he’s ready to play, he doesn’t have to play great, just be ready to play and be disruptive and push the null in transition. When he does that, we’re pretty good. When he doesn’t, you know, anybody can play us.
Q. When PJ started making those threes on that hot streak, and then Ashton and Tyler (Herro) joined him, what was going through your mind when all those threes were being made?
JOHN CALIPARI: There were balloons going off in my head saying, great, this is unbelievable. But the reality of it is, we don’t -- we don’t win and lose on that, and most of them were kind of -- P.J.’s were fine, but I think we got a couple at the end of a shot clock. We kind of broke down.
But it was -- the kids performed. They have been working. Our shootaround this morning, we were up early. We had a shootaround early this morning, and guess what, they were great. They were focused. They were engaged. They listened. There was no one pouting or, you know, and this is a young team. Did we start four freshmen today and a sophomore? I mean, like we’re a young, young team to be doing this.
Q. What does it say to the maturity or maybe the empowerment of the team; so many different players played really well the first game after losing a key player to injury.
JOHN CALIPARI: You know, sometimes they all understand without Reid (Travis), we’re going to have to do this together and I think they all came together and did it. This was an effort on both sides of the ball.
With Nick (Richards) and EJ (Montgomery), you’ve got some shot blocking now. We had seven blocks. They lead the league and they had one. We had seven blocks.
Now you’ve got -- we got length. PJ blocked a couple. You know, it’s just -- I’m having a ball coaching these guys because they are learning to not listen to the clutter that everybody is trying to tell them what to do and trying to feed their ego or flatter them. They are understanding that’s poison, and to understand that as a 19-year-old, when you’d like to hear that stuff, they are get to go understand that, man, that hurts me.
So all the stuff -- and you’re right, they are becoming empowered. They are coaching each other. It’s just fun to see. We’ve got, how many games do we have left?
Q. Was there anything in particular about the matchup or the way the game played out, why you attempted so many threes early? Was it just a matter of --
JOHN CALIPARI: They left -- they left some people. They were going to make sure that PJ was guarded by two. And then some of them were down the end of a shot clock where we had nothing else to shoot and shot it and went in.
So when I saw 17 at halftime, I’m going to say it again: Any time my team has taken 30 threes, we’ve lost. So when I saw 17, I’m like, we’re not doing this in the second half. That’s not who we are. We happen to make them, great. Now we’re going to go play how we play and we did and we did fine.
Q. Between Nick and EJ, ten points, ten rebounds, six blocks, three steals. Is that a perfect number, especially if Keldon is going to rebound like his hair is on fire?
JOHN CALIPARI: We probably need a few more rebounds by those two, and Nick, we’ve got to get Nick -- I told him, “It’s going to be a minute, but I’m telling you, Nick,” I said -- we’re all in one huddle. I said, “How many of you here are cheering for Nick, and really rooting for him to do well?”
The whole -- me, everybody, the coaches, we all want him to do well but we can’t do it for him. Most of the stuff is just energy, like loosen up your mind. You have what you call “stinkin’ thinking.” You just have to loosen up your mind and go play and that means with energy.
He’s not blaming anybody. He doesn’t say, “The coach takes me out every time I make a mistake.” He ain’t -- he knows he’s got to get this. At some point, that light bulb is going to go off and we’re going to see a monster.
Right now, he just, you know, two, three minutes at a time, and then we’ll go. Today I went with -- and I wanted to try it, anyway. We went with Keldon as we went to a small lineup. I think we had Keldon and EJ in together, and then I tried Keldon and PJ because I just wanted to see what that looked like.
Q. You’ve been blamed in the past for holding players back. This transformation with PJ has just been a joy to watch.
JOHN CALIPARI: Who has blamed me of holding people back? Do we have 40 guys in the NBA? I’ve held them all back, oh, my God. I think we had four No. 1 picks. I held those guys back, too. (Laughter) but anyway, go ahead. You’re fine.
Q. How much --
JOHN CALIPARI: You’re wrong again, but go ahead (laughter).
Q. How much of the credit should we be giving to you --
JOHN CALIPARI: All of it. It’s all me (laughter). My wife said, “What’s this life, about you?”
I go, “Yeah. I’m the only one that works here.” Anyway. Then she throws something at me.
Q. You say you love coaching players for more than one year.
JOHN CALIPARI: Sure.
Q. What does this say to how the players --
JOHN CALIPARI: This is a great lesson. PJ, without going through this, having to go in that league, maybe be a second-rounder, play in the G-league, his life just changed now because he decided to come back, when other kids all left. He made a choice for him. Kind of like what Willie Cauley-Stein did; I’m coming back, because I need to come back.
The ego of this sometimes forces kids out early; if he leaves, I’m leaving. Well what does that have to do with anything for you if I had a chance to coach three and four years, I would absolutely love it. I would love it.
At this point, it’s not the way this thing works. Now, if they -- and again, I’ll say what I said before. The reason they are going to 18 is the G-league stuff wasn’t going to work. Like we’re going to let you all in the G-league. Everybody is like, we’re not coming.
So now they go, and we’re going to let 18-year-olds, hopefully 50 will want to come. How many will be drafted? Five? Four? The rest will hopefully go to the G-league.
My thing is let’s not devalue education. The NCAA in their infinite wisdom should not even think about a baseball rule or anything else; if the kids go to college, let them stay for a year, two years, three years. If they go to college, they went because they weren’t good enough to go, which means you’re probably going to have to stay two or three years. Every once in a while a kid will leave after a year.
Now, I don’t think they are making decisions for any one program to help a program. Like the education here will take over and we’ll be -- I don’t believe that’s happening. But I do know that we should not even think about the baseball rule. Let these kids go as 18-year-olds. If they choose to come to college, great. They have a lifetime scholarship here. Just here and just about every other school that’s a top-level school, they do it. So now if something happens after a year or two, you’ve got a scholarship.
So my hope is, I think it’s going to be perfect for us. I mean, this -- I’m going to go kiss Adam, tell him, this is beautiful for me. It’s good.
Q. Two-part. Why --
JOHN CALIPARI: One. You get one question, Jerry.
Q. Okay. One long, elongated question that branches off.
JOHN CALIPARI: Okay.
Q. Why EJ starting instead of Nick, and what goes through your mind when EJ gets a foul in the first 15 seconds and then PJ picks up a charge in the first minute?
JOHN CALIPARI: I wasn’t real happy at that point, but my reasoning for EJ is he’s playing better. I mean, it’s not -- I love Nick. Nick’s one of my favorite players of all-time, of all-time that I’ve ever coached. I want more for him. He frustrates me. I know he’s better than he’s playing. I’m trying everything I can to get it out of him. Takes longer with some kids than others.
But EJ right now is playing better, so he deserves to start. Now, Nick played 20 minutes, so how much did EJ play? 23? So they are going to get about the same minutes.
Q. What about the foul --
JOHN CALIPARI: They happen. What I tell them prior to the game is this is not football. If a guy has a layup, let him go, don’t foul. We’ll score nine seconds later. It’s not football.
Q. Curious if you saw the video that Joe B. did for you after winning 298 games for you.
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, that was -- the one you showed me? Yeah, I did see it, and he came to practice yesterday.
He’s asked me to -- I said, you know what, no one should pass Coach Hall. I want you to understand, he walked into this situation following maybe one of the best coaches to ever coach this game who was here 42 years.
There were people in this state that didn’t know anybody else coached at Kentucky except Coach Rupp. He follows it, and Coach Rupp was still here, I believe. Still had an office, still had the camp, still had the radio show -- what? And he coached, he got the final fours, he wins a national title, and I’m just so happy the respect he gets now and how people treat him.
So no one should go by -- so Coach Hall just asked me to vacate any games that go by him. I said they have already vacated some of my games. Maybe we’ll just vacate some more and at the end of the day I’ll be one less than him (laughter).
Now I’ll get a call: ‘Are you asking us to vacate your games? We’ll do that if we can.’ (Laughter).
On the 30-point win …
“It feels good. With Reid [Travis] being out, someone had to step up and EJ [Montgomery] and Nick [Richards] did a great job doing that today. We got two tough games next week, so we got to keep it going and keep playing well.”
On being more confidence in his jump shot …
“I’ve been in the gym a lot. Coach (Calipari) keeps telling me to shoot any open shot I have and that’s built my confidence up. I feel way better about my shot so that’s what I’m going to continue to do—shoot it.”
On forcing Auburn away from the 3-point line …
“The game plan this whole week was to make them drive and put the ball on the floor. I think we did a great job doing that. That’s what we worked on so, that’s what we wanted to come out here and do.”
On Calipari referring to him to ‘UNC level’ Ashton Hagans…
“I’m getting back to it. Just keeping my man in front of me, making him go off the ball screen, not getting turned down, not letting him score. I think I’m doing a great job of it. Just trying to get back to the UNC game.”
On Keldon Johnson’s rebounding …
“Reid (Travis) was rebounding every ball so in the locker room we were telling each other that we needed someone to come out here and get rebounds. Our coaches were telling all the guards that we needed to come out here and get rebounds. Keldon Johnson said he got it so that’s what he came out here and did.”
On shooting 3’s unlike they normally do …
“Everybody was just having open shots and feeling good. The ball kept coming back, so they continued to knock those open shots down. We’re difficult when we can do that. With anybody or any team when you’re knocking down 3’s, you can open up everything. You open up lanes for easy drives, easy layups and that’s just what we did today.”
On if Calipari ever mentions how often his toe is on the line …
“No, not at all. He never says anything. He just tells me to take the open shot and shoot it. Joel (Justus) said something. One of the times, I thought I knocked down the 3 and did the 3-point guitar thing and he said, ‘You know that was a two right?’ That was all he said but I was just out there having fun.”
On if Reid Travis’ absence influenced his rebounding effort …
“Definitely. We knew we had to make up for Reid’s absence, so I knew I had to go in and hit the glass extra hard today.”
On the statement they made today as a team playing so well without having Travis …
“We didn’t really miss a beat. I mean we would have liked to have Reid, but we knew that we all had to pick it up a notch and that’s just what we had to do.”
On what it says about them to have the discipline to not get too 3-point shot happy in the second half …
“We just knew that we hit a couple early 3s and we were hot, but we knew that we had to keep going downhill and attacking and not settling. We know we can hit 3s. We practice every day and we know what we are capable of, but we knew to get downhill and keep creating shots for others.”
On how comfortable he is playing the four spot …
“I mean I’m comfortable with it, just get in there and be tough. That’s what I do. I go in there and be tough and whatever they need me to do, I just go out there and do it.”
On how they were able to limit Auburn to 53 when they average 80 points a game …
“We just got a high hand up on all their 3-point shot attempts, and just moving our feet on defense and playing hard.”
On Bruce Pearl saying PJ Washington may be one of the best players in the country …
“I agree. I think he is one of the best if not the best player in the country. He is a great player.”
On how much they feed off of PJ Washington’s energy to start the game …
“I mean he started us off and we just followed and kept riding off that energy.”
On playing well early …
“Just trying to come out aggressive and finding shots for me and my teammates and we have confidence in everyone here. So, we are just able to pass the ball and have confidence to make shots”
On improvement of his jump shot …
“Last year, I wouldn’t even really shoot 3’s honestly. Last year I was just trying to bully people, get to the rim and make layups; and this year I feel like my game has expanded a lot more. They were denying me in the post and I was just hitting shots today and just kept shooting. They were going in and fortunately we won the game tonight.”
On playing without Reid Travis …
“We were talking about that all week. We knew it was going to be tough to replace him so we all had to step up and provide something and I feel like Nick (Richards) and EJ (Montgomery) did a great job today. And Keldon (Johnson) did a wonderful job rebounding the ball. So we all did a great job collectively.”
On what this team can do when everyone’s healthy …
“I feel like we can be special. We just have to play together. Sometimes when we don’t play together some teams start to beat up on us a little bit and once we get back to doing what we do there’s not a lot of teams in the country that can beat us.”