By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky needs a go-to player. Hopefully it figured out who that player is Saturday in its overtime loss to Seton Hall.
Sophomore PJ Washington had 29 points, 12 rebounds (he originally was credited with 13 but the statistics were revised Sunday), four blocks and three assists. He was 8-for-14 from the field and 12-for-13 from the foul line — a tribute to how hard he’s worked since the end of last season on his foul shooting.
What’s even more impressive about Washington is that he got 16 of his points in the final six minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime. What’s even more perplexing is how Kentucky failed to get him the ball on the final possession when it was down by just one point.
Calipari said after the game that the end of the game Washington is “who he should be the whole game” because he can be that good. Remember a little over a week ago when Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said he thought Washington was the player who made the Cats go?
Calipari even wondered why Washington wasn’t get 35 points and 20 rebounds per game. Never mind that no player in the country is averaging that many points or rebounds per game — much less one player doing both.
“If that’s who you are, and you’re making free throws and you’re doing the things that you’re doing, you’re as good as any player in the country,” Calipari said after the game. “Be that guy every night. Hard though. It’s really hard to be that guy every night. I mean you got to bring it. That’s lunch pail.”
He’s right. It is hard but count me as one who still believes Washington not only can be UK’s go-to guy, but one of the best players period.
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard is a believer, too, after what he saw Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
“I tell you what, that kid, he’s going to make a lot of money. Watching him on film, I was really impressed. But when you see him in person, and you see his size and athleticism. He’s the real deal. He really is,” Willard said. “I love the way he plays. He plays hard. He doesn’t just float to the outside. He got inside and posted up.”
Again, makes one wonder why UK didn’t get the ball to him on the final possession to give him a chance to score, get fouled or both.
Washington made no excuses for UK’s loss and credited Seton Hall star Myles Powell for making “tough” shots the second half to help his team win.
“We played great defense on him, but he’s making tough, contested shots over us. He played his butt off and they’re a good team and we need to watch film and learn from it,” Washington said.
And while the Cats are watching that film, some of Washington’s teammates could also learn by watching him and figuring out how to make sure he gets the ball in the right spots even more than he did Saturday.
Washington averaged 10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game last year while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 60.6 percent at the foul line. This year he’s averaging 14 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game despite playing three less minutes per game. He’s shooting 51.9 percent per game but is taking two more shots per game. He’s making 70.8 percent of his foul shots. He’s also 8-for-15 from 3-point range after making just five of 21 last year.
So not only does Washington look like he’s playing well, the numbers support it because they are all better than last year and could well just keep getting better and better.