Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s win over North Dakota

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 96-58 win over North Dakota on Wednesday:

1. Getting down with the defense

“We finally turned somebody over,” said UK Coach John Calipari afterward, and indeed the active Cats forced the visiting Fighting Hawks into 20 turnovers on the night. Points off turnovers: Kentucky 31, North Dakota 6.

“They’ve got a chance to be a special defensive team,” said North Dakota Coach Brian Jones after his club dropped to 2-1 on the season.

[Kentucky-North Dakota box score]

Kentucky did limit the visitors to 39.6 percent shooting from the floor. And the Cats smashed North Dakota on the boards 45-15. Kentucky snatched 19 offensive rebounds to North Dakota’s 10 defensive rebounds for an offensive rebound percentage of 65.5. This after UK’s ORP against Southern Illinois last Friday was 60.0 percent.

And after surrendering a stunning 1.409 points per possession in that 118-84 loss to Duke last week, UK allowed SIU 0.871 points per possession and UND 0.811 points per possession. The latter two numbers are much more like it.

2. Welcome back PJ Washington

North Dakota’s first possession of the game, the Hawks worked the ball inside to center Conner Avants for an easy bucket. Up off the bench came center Nick Richards and out of the game came UK starting center PJ Washington. The game was all of 58 seconds old.

If Calipari was trying to send a message, then message received. A few minutes later, Washington returned to the game and ended up scoring a career-high 25 points, making nine of 13 shots, including a career-high four of his five attempts from three-point land. Washington added seven rebounds in his 17-minute night.

This came after the sophomore scored all of eight points with just two rebounds in 17 minutes the night of the Duke demolition. Washington was a basic no-show against Southern Illinois, taking two shots, scoring three points and turning the basketball over five times in 20 minutes.

That caused Calipari to speculate that the Texan was still being affected by his off-season hand surgery. “Balls are going through his hands that shouldn’t be,” the UK coach said Tuesday.

And Washington did commit three turnovers on Wednesday. Still, his overall play was the best it has been through three games. That’s a good sign.

3. Calipari is loving the practice time

Said the coach, “It weren’t for the damn games this would be a beautiful profession.”

The coach said Tuesday and repeated Wednesday that his biggest mistake with this team, the mistake that paved the way for the Cats to be punked by Duke, was assuming they already knew how to do certain things. You know, basketball things. You know, the basketball things they did so well during that Bahamas trip over the summer.

[Liveblog: Kentucky 96, North Dakota 58]

Turns out, they didn’t really know how to do those things. Not on a consistent basis, anyway. For example, Calipari said after the game Wednesday he is going to have to play freshman center EJ Montgomery more. He called Montgomery “a separator” who can make plays that make a difference in a game. But the freshman did not dive after a loose ball in the first half. So, in Cal’s words, the coach ripped him. The second half, Mongtomery dove after two loose balls.

Calipari said UK’s practices are now more physical. Body-to-body contact. A couple of players, according to the coach, “let go of the rope.” It was too much. But Calipari said he remains committed to holding this team accountable. No more skipping steps.

VMI at Kentucky

When: Sunday, 6 p.m.

Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington

TV: SEC Network

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader