By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore P.J. Washington was expected to not only be one of Kentucky’s best players this season but also to be a team leader.
He didn’t look the way even coach John Calipari hoped in UK’s first two games — a 34-point loss to Duke and narrow win over Southern Illinois — when he had 11 points and eight rebounds total. He fouled out after playing just 17 minutes against Duke and had five turnovers against Southern Illinois.
But in the win over North Dakota Wednesday, he played the way Calipari had anticipated. He had 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting and even hit four 3-pointers. He also pulled off seven rebounds.
“I feel like the first two games I got into foul trouble really quick. I just tried to be solid and to get rebounds and just try to create for everybody,” Washington said after Wednesday’s win. “Just try to knock down some shots. I feel like once I saw a couple go in, it kind of just opened up for me.”
North Dakota coach Brian Jones said his team wanted to make Washington shoot outside. That is the sophomore’s perceived weakness and one reason he took his name out of the NBA draft to return to UK.
“We said we got to pick our poison going into the game saying we’re ok with that. Obviously, they came out and made shots. We tried to make a few adjustments with that, but if they can continue to do that, that’s going to make them hard to really defend,” Jones said.
“Obviously, Washington really shot the ball well, but I think it’s going to help all of them, so you just can’t really key on Reid (Travis) inside if they’ve got multiple bigs who can stretch the floor. It’s going to open up driving lanes for those quick guards but also give the bigs a little more room to work down low.”
Maybe that’s why Calipari went back to basics after the Southern Illinois game not only for Washington but for other players who needed to pick up their play.
“We worked on setting screens, rebounding and that was pretty much it. Those two were the main focuses and our defense as well,” Washington said. “We do a drill that’s called the ‘Perfect Stop’ and it’s 30 seconds you have to play to beat the whole time and can’t let them score and get in the paint. I think we did a good job of applying that drill to the court today.”