UK Men's Basketball

‘Trying to buy PJ time.’ UK thinking long-term in return of Washington.

How do you shoot like Wofford’s Fletcher Magee?

Wofford basketball star Fletcher Magee talks to the media on Friday, March 22, 2019, at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. Wofford plays Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
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Wofford basketball star Fletcher Magee talks to the media on Friday, March 22, 2019, at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. Wofford plays Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

With his left foot encased by a hard cast and elevated off the floor, PJ Washington rode a scooter around Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Friday. That did not send a reassuring message about Kentucky’s main man playing against Wofford in Saturday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Associate coach Kenny Payne put the sight of UK’s leading scorer and rebounder off his feet into perspective.

“Look, we’re trying to buy PJ time,” Payne said. “We’re trying to live to fight another day. We win this game, it gives him a couple more days to get healthy. That’s our deal. We want to give him a chance to get back on the floor.”

Washington sprained his left foot last weekend. He did not play in Kentucky’s round-of-64 victory over Abilene Christian on Thursday night.

Kentucky basketball players and coach John Calipari preview the NCAA Tournament second round game against the Wofford Terriers. Calipari provides an injury update on PJ Washington

UK Coach John Calipari addressed the rampant speculation about the severity of Washington’s injury and when he could return.

“I know there’s all this ‘It’s a conspiracy,’” Calipari said. “I’m telling you, it was negative in every X-ray, MRI.”

Then Calipari’s sense of humor kicked in as he added, “We even did a RIM.”

Washington wants to play, Calipari said, “but I also want to feel comfortable that if he gets on the court that there’s nothing he can do to himself. And the doctors have pretty much said that.”

Payne put Washington riding a scooter as part of UK’s cautionary approach.

“I think they want to keep him from moving or twitching anything,” Payne said. “Or irritating anything. And he’s day-to-day. A lot of it depends on his pain.”

When asked if Washington could play against Wofford, Payne smiled and said, “His pain will tell us that.”

Kentucky basketball’s Keldon Johnson talks about Saturday opponent Wofford being called a Cinderella in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Johnson scored 25 points in UK’s win over Abilene Christian on Thursday.

Offense affects defense

While saluting the progress Keldon Johnson has made as a defender, Payne called for the development to continue. This echoed Calipari’s postgame comments Thursday about Johnson having defensive lapses against Abilene Christian.

“I’d like for him to tighten up on the defensive end of the floor,” Payne said. “I thought there were plays last night he left out there.”

Payne also called for more rebounding. He noted the 17 rebounds Johnson grabbed against Auburn on Feb. 23. Perhaps with Washington being sidelined in mind, Payne said, “We need that now.”

When asked if Johnson lets setbacks on offense adversely affect his defense, Payne said, “He definitely gets caught up in offense. And he lets his emotions live and die off of what he does offensively. We’re not worried about offense. We need him to be great defensively.”

What’s a Wofford?

Storm Murphy is a starting guard for Wofford who’s made 48.5 percent of his three-point shots and averages 8.0 points and 25.6 minutes. He said he heard either Shaquille O’Neal or Charles Barkley ask a telling question on TNT’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament.

One of the two asked, “What’s a Wofford?” Murphy said with a smile.

Murphy, who is from Middleton, Wis., said a recruiting call from Wofford puzzled him.

“Are you D-III? D-II?” he said he asked. “I really didn’t know. I had to Google ‘Wofford.’”

No. 7 seed Wofford will face No 2 seed Kentucky Saturday afternoon in the second round of the tournament

Leading scorer Fletcher Magee said he was faintly familiar with Wofford when its coaches expressed a recruiting interest. “I thought it was in South Carolina or North Carolina,” he said. “But I knew they were in the NCAA that year just from making a bracket as a high schooler.”

Forward Cam Jackson described the school setting as a “close-knit community.”

To illustrate the point, he said, “We have professors here (in Jacksonville) that will greet us after the games in the hotel.”

Wofford is a private school in Spartanburg, S.C., with an enrollment of 1,672. That’s the third-smallest enrollment in Division I, Magee said.

The school was founded by a Methodist minister, Benjamin Wofford, in 1954. Among its alumni is ESPN reporter and anchor Wendi Nix.

Wofford connection

When it came to familiarity with Wofford, Reid Travis was exceptional. He said the school’s basketball program recruited his older brother Jonah.

“I’ve always seen Wofford in Minnesota gyms since I was a kid,” Travis said.

Coincidentally, Travis made his college debut for Stanford in a 74-59 victory over Wofford on Nov. 14, 2014. Travis made six of 12 shots, scored 14 points and grabbed four rebounds.

“So it’s kind of full circle in that sense,” Travis said.

Kentucky forward Reid Travis said Friday his high school coach in Minnesota was friends with Wofford Coach Mike Young, so he is familiar with UK’s opponent Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Jacksonville, Fla.

Sibling rivalry

Magee, who is 6-foot-4, was asked if it bothered him that his younger brother was taller.

“Absolutely,” Magee said. “He’s only 14, and he’s probably 2 inches taller than me. So I wish I had two of those inches on me.”

Kentucky basketball sophomore Nick Richards says he’s fine after taking a hard fall late in UK’s 79-44 win over Abilene Christian in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Jacksonville. Richards scored eight points.

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