UK Men's Basketball

Vanderbilt-Washington connection is clicking for UK. ‘I know his game. He knows my game.’

Kentucky’s PJ Washington, left, congratulated Jarred Vanderbilt during a timeout in the Cats’ game against Missouri on Feb. 24.
Kentucky’s PJ Washington, left, congratulated Jarred Vanderbilt during a timeout in the Cats’ game against Missouri on Feb. 24.

Neither player said anything. No eye contact. No wink and a nod.

With Kentucky clinging to a 67-64 lead midway through the second half, Kevin Knox badly missed a heavily contested shot from the baseline. Jarred Vanderbilt tipped the rebound to PJ Washington for a dunk.

This was an example of player-to-player chemistry. How much communication was involved?

“Actually, none,” Washington said Friday. “I wasn’t expecting it. I thought he’d get the rebound, so I was just sitting there ready. He tipped it to me. We just try to be on top of plays like that.”

UK Coach John Calipari has pointed out how well Washington and Vanderbilt play off each other on the court. Washington pointed out that he and his fellow Texan had plenty of time to connect. Washington is from Dallas, Vanderbilt from Houston.

“I’ve been knowing him since I was young,” he said. “I know his game. He knows my game. And we complement each other and try to play off that.”

PJ Washington, University of Kentucky forward, talks to press about his season playing for UK and his preparedness for Saturday’s match against Florida.

Sparks off bench

Washington and Vanderbilt are two-thirds of a three-headed spark off the bench for Kentucky. Quade Green completes the trio.

When asked if a role off the bench changed his mindset, Washington said, “Not really. I’m just trying to play. Just come in and do what the coach asks me to do.”

Hamidou Diallo echoed that thought.

“I feel any of the three of those guys could start,” he said. “Any of the three of those guys could come off the bench. It’s all about what the team needs you to do.”

Calipari said that the only reason he had not moved one or more of the three into the starting lineup was because UK was winning. Starting or coming off the bench makes no difference, he said.

Hamidou Diallo, University of Kentucky guard, talks about the men's basketball team preparing for Saturday’s match up against Florida.

Demonstrated performance

While Diallo voiced appreciation for encouragement from Calipari, he said words mean only so much.

“He can only believe in me so much,” Diallo said. “At the end of the day, I’m the one on the court lacing it up and going out there and competing. So it’s all about me.”

Non-call

The first UK-Florida game ended with a non-call. Washington said he believed he was fouled on a layup attempt, but the non-call preserved 66-64 victory.

“We should have never got ourselves in that position in the first place,” Washington said.

John Calipari, University of Kentucky mens basketball coach, talks during a press conference Friday about teaching his basketball players to ‘conquer’ themselves as a form discipline.

Cheez Day II?

Point guard Chris Chiozza will be among the players recognized at Florida’s Senior Day ceremony.

The first UK-Florida game fell on Cheese Lovers Day. Chiozza — whose last name (pronounced Chee-OH-zah) inspires Florida students to wear cheese heads — celebrated by getting credit for eight assists while committing only one turnover in leading Florida to a victory.

“Every day should be National Cheese Day, except maybe for Kentucky fans,” Chiozza said after the game. “I wanted to be able to say I won here once in my career.”

Florida Coach Mike White saluted Chiozza’s performance by saying, “He was terrific the entire game. I can’t say enough about Chris Chiozza. I’m glad he’s my point guard.”

After UK defeated Ole Miss on Wednesday, Green did not need help recalling Chiozza. “He set the tone real early,” Green said. “He got the tempo going. He set the pace. He just controlled that whole game. So we can’t let him do that the next game.”

How well has Chiozza played overall? In SEC games, he has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.89 to 1 (109 assists, 28 turnovers).

In this decade, only Jabril Durham (Arkansas) and Tyler Ulis (UK) have had a better assist-to-turnover ratio in SEC games than Chiozza.

His next assist will enable Chiozza to break the Florida record for career assists, which he shares with Erving Walker at 547.

And Chiozza hasn’t feasted on weak opponents. In seven previous games this season against ranked opponents, he has had 61 assists and 19 turnovers while shooting 48.6 percent overall and 50 percent from three-point range.

Etc.

Calipari said it was hard for him to watch Florida make 13 of 28 three-point shots in beating Auburn last weekend. “I just sat there and said, whew, I hope that’s not them (against UK),” he said. … If UK must foul at the end, it would be best not to send Chiozza (78.8 percent), Egor Koulechov (88.6) nor KeVaughn Allen (92.3) to the line. … Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel will call the game for CBS.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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