As Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard saw it, Kentucky forward PJ Washington was money in Saturday’s game. That’s literally as well as figuratively.
“I tell you what, that kid, he’s going to make a lot of money,” Willard said after his Pirates defeated UK 84-83 in overtime. “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.
“And I love the way he plays. He plays hard. He doesn’t just float to the outside. He got inside and posted up.”
Washington scored a career-high 29 points. He also grabbed 13 rebounds, thus posting his third double-double in the last six games. He also equaled a career high of four blocks. Coincidentally, his previous game blocking four shots came in Madison Square Garden against Monmouth last season.
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It was no surprise that UK Coach John Calipari called for more-more-more from Washington. Calipari noted that 16 of Washington’s points came in the final 5:56 of the second half or in overtime.
“That’s who he should be the whole game,” Calipari said. “‘That’s who you are. Why aren’t you getting 35 (points) and 20 (rebounds)?’”
Going into this weekend, no player was posting such numbers. The nation’s leading scorer, Chris Clemons of Campbell, averaged 24.3 points. The leading rebounder, Demajeo Wiggins of Bowling Green, averaged 12.2 rebounds.
“You’re as good as any player in the country,” Calipari said as if speaking to Washington. “Be that guy every night.”
Seton Hall evoked memories of Christian Laettner’s famous shot that beat Kentucky by defending the inbounder at the end of regulation. That didn’t work, as Keldon Johnson made a half-court heave. Neither did not defending Duke’s inbounder, who passed to Laettner for the winning shot in the 1992 NCAA Tournament.
“It was my fault,” Willard said of guarding the inbounder. “I never, ever post a guy on the ball. We practice with a free safety. It makes no sense having a guy on the ball.”
Willard said that the idea is a free safety can force a pass toward either sideline. From there, a shot is “so much harder” than from the middle of the court. “I’d rather have two guys try to play the guy in the middle than one,” he said.
UK and Louisville
A week earlier, Seton Hall lost 70-65 to Louisville.
When asked to compare UK and U of L, Willard said, “I think Kentucky is much more physical ... has a much (more) physical presence. I think Louisville shoots the ball much better. I don’t think it’s close.”
Calipari said Kentucky’s inexperience showed on several occasions.
“We came out of a timeout to post the ball,” he said of one such occasion, “and one of my guys shot a three. And I’m like, ‘You’re kidding me.’”
Calipari did not name names. But it might have been a reference to a sequence inside the final minute of regulation. With the score tied at 67-67 and after play was halted to review what became a player control foul, Tyler Herro took a three-point shot with the subsequent possession. Herro missed all six of his three-point attempts.
“I have to tell you, every one of them no one was near him,” Calipari said. “They were wide-open threes. He just didn’t make them today.”
Calipari saluted Herro’s decision to go inside for scoring chances. He made four of seven two-point shots and finished with 10 points.
3 better than 4
When it comes to “bigs,” Calipari again said he prefers to play three rather than four.
“We played four ‘bigs’ (against Seton Hall),” he said. “I’m just not sure I like it, to be honest with you.”
Nick Richards, who played only one minute against UNC Greensboro the previous weekend, played 12 minutes. He scored three points and grabbed five rebounds.
“Nick did some good stuff today,” Calipari said, “but when you’re playing four, it takes away (time) from one or two of them. When you’re playing three, there’s a rotation.”
Calipari said he needed to “re-think” how he will use UK’s big men.
For the first time in two seasons, Jemarl Baker got in a game. He came in with 1:17 left in the first half. He did not get into the game in the second half. His stat line was all zeroes.
Foul trouble was a factor, Calipari said. Guards Ashton Hagans and Herro each picked up two fouls in the first half.
“We went down and asked him, ‘Can you go in if we need you?’” Calipari said. “... We had all this foul trouble. And he said he could.”