University of Kentucky freshmen Hamidou Diallo and PJ Washington both scored in double figures Thursday, leading John Calipari-coached Team USA to an 82-60 win over France in an exhibition game ahead of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt.
The future Wildcats performed well for the second consecutive day, having led the U.S. past Lithuania in an exhibition game on Wednesday.
Diallo made six of nine shots from the field and finished with 15 points. Washington scored 13, and added four rebounds and four assists. Team USA also received strong contributions from UNLV’s Brandon McCoy and Auburn’s Austin Wiley, who each added nine points and seven boards. UK recruiting target Cameron Reddish finished with six points, six rebounds and six assists.
The United States opens World Cup play Saturday morning against Iran.
“I don’t know what our assist-to-turnover ratio was, but I think it was pretty good,” Calipari said after Thursday’s exhibition against one of the tournament’s medal favorites. “We rebounded well. I think our big guys, both (Austin) Wiley and Brandon McCoy, are playing well.”
Diallo scored five points as Team USA raced to a 9-0 lead.
“He’s gotten so much better, he’s not the same player he was, he’s just not,” Calipari said of Diallo, who spent the spring semester with the Kentucky team learning from the bench. “He’s better skilled, he’s more disciplined, he’ll still do some undisciplined things but you expect it. What I want him to be, if he wants to be the best player in the country, is be a lock-down defender. Because offense happens. He can run, jump, and move with the ball. He’s shooting it way better than he has and now it’s just, ‘let’s see.’”
France closed the gap to 21-17 by the end of the first period, but Calipari was not concerned.
“Tonight, I tried to play 10 guys a half. It made it easier for me to coach and them to play, because I told them prior to the game, ‘You two will not play in the first half. I’m playing these 10.’ And then in the second half I said ‘I’m playing you 10, and that’s it,’” said Calipari, who coached the team in Cairo while rumors swirled back home about his interest in the New York Knicks’ presidency.
France made a three-pointer to open the second quarter and cut the deficit to 21-20. Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, who finished with seven points and four boards, slammed home two points to launch the Americans on a 13-0 run that ballooned their lead to 34-20 with 5:33 to play in the quarter. The U.S. led 41-33 at halftime.
The U.S. put the game out of reach with a 15-2 run late in the third quarter, extending its lead to 66-42 entering the fourth.
“I felt like on the defensive end we pressed out and played great defense, we got a lot of rebounds, got out on fast breaks and just converted on those,” Washington said. “If we get stops I feel like offense comes easy for us. I feel like we’re not a half-court team that we’re more of a fast-break team, so good defense is really important for us.”
On the night, the U.S. shot 49.2 percent (29-for-59), including 6-for-23 from three-point range, and outrebounded a tall French squad 41-37 (including 11 offensive boards). France shot 25.3 percent (24-for-68) from the field, 34.6 percent (9--for-26) from tjree-point range, and was forced into 21 turnovers.
Washington said the exhibition games have been good for Team USA, which was quickly assembled during a training camp in Colorado last week. Calipari started the same five in both exhibitions: Immanuel Quickley, Reddish, Diallo, Wiley and Washington.
“I feel like it’s very important because we haven’t been playing together for a long time, and I feel like it’s great to get us some playing time versus some different teams to see where we’re at,” Washington said. “The chemistry is great right now, it could be better, but once we get playing some more games, it’s going to get even better.”