By LARRY VAUGHT
With Kentucky trying to put Kansas away Saturday night, sophomore PJ Washington went to the foul line and made four straight free throws to cap off his spectacular game that included 20 points and 13 rebounds.
But from a confidence standpoint, hitting those clutch free throws may have been huge for Washington because of the struggle he had making free throws in UK’s season-ending loss to Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen last year.
“He had a different spirit about him. There was no tentativeness,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Washington had his second straight 20-point game — a first for him — and maybe it had something to do with Calipari showing both him and freshman Keldon Johnson film of them sprinting the court in Tuesday’s win over Mississippi State. The coach says that’s something they both should always do but have not always done it.
“And when we showed the team, I said, ‘You mean you’re that fast? You’re that fast? You and Keldon are that fast? Well then why aren’t you running like that?’” Calipari said. “I think when he (Washington) plays at a different pace, a different level of intensity, a different level of bouncing and alertness, I’m telling you, he’s as good as anybody in the country. He is. “When he doesn’t, he’s OK. He’s just OK. So that becomes, what do you want. And then when you play that way, the hard thing is, to live up to that and have to do that all the time. Really hard.
“That’s when you become special where that — you thrive in that environment. I’m going to show everybody every game who I am versus I’m a little tired today. I’m just going to kind of — well, if you want to be one of those guys, thrive in that, and — and I was proud of him today. And he did some of it in the second half against Mississippi State. “So hopefully he’s breaking through right now, and I think being in practice against Reid, Nick, and EJ every day, they are all getting better. Every one of them are getting better.”