By LARRY VAUGHT
Maybe it was just baby steps, but at least it was steps in the right direction.
Nobody will mistake North Dakota for Duke, but Kentucky did what it should have done to North Dakota. The Cats used a 14-0 run early to take control and cruised to a 96-58 win.
One day after coach John Calipari said he had gone “old school” with his team, the Cats had more intensity and teamwork against a team vastly overmatched by UK’s talent.
“If you’re afraid to play because I get on you, then don’t play,” Calipari said after the game.
The Cats put five players in double figures led by sophomore P.J. Washington’s 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including a s surprising 4-for-5 from 3-point range. He also has seven rebounds, one block, one steal and one assist.
Not bad considering that Calipari pulled him out of the game in the first minute for a little “heart to heart” talk on the bench.
“With that intensity, he’s a difference-maker. He’s a separator,” Calipari said. “That PJ Washington can be one of the best players in the country. Now he has to prove that he can go out and do it consistently. I still say he’s one of the best players, but now he’s got to go prove it.”
As nice as it was to see Washington come out of the funk he had been in and play the way UK fans expected, it was just as good to see freshman Tyler Herro make shots. He had 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and was the offensive threat he had been during UK’s exhibition trip to the Bahamas when he led the team in scoring.
Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley both had 12 points while Reid Travis, after a hot start, had 11 despite finishing 4-for-12 from the field. Johnson and Quickly combined to get to the foul line 18 times and made 14.
Calipari was also happy with freshman EJ Montgomery, who had eight points on 4-for-8 shooting, along with seven rebounds and two blocks.
“EJ can do things normal players can’t do,” Calipari said. “You need separators. You can’t have nine good players. You have got to have someone special.”
That’s why seeing Herro make shots helped.
“Tyler Herro finally got it going,” the UK coach said. “I remember Devin Booker making one of his first nine (shots) and then going 14 of 21. This kid could be the same way.”
Calipari was not pleased that seven of his team’s 13 turnovers came from his “bigs.” A day earlier he had noted that had been a point of emphasis to reduce those turnovers.
“I mean most of it is they’re not used to coming to stops, they’re not used to driving a lane and they think they’re going to drive and no one’s coming at them,” Calipari said. “It’s just stuff that we got to do every day. So if we want to put them in positions to score, then we got to teach them what do you do when this happens.
“Do you understand that you’re not — like today PJ had three, I think he had three at halftime. So he didn’t have any in the second half. But it’s, you got to do drills that gets them more comfortable.”