Basketball Season Coverage
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 19th, 2019 @ 7:30pm
The Kentucky basketball team has moved on from their victory over Tennessee and is ready for their matchup with Missouri this evening.
Yesterday afternoon, UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, forward Reid Travis, and guard Ashton Hagans broke down the team’s matchup with the Tigers and what fans can expect this evening.
Kenny Payne talked about winning the SEC, Calipari silencing the crowd, getting over the Tennessee game, and why he’s impressed with Missouri.
Reid Travis discussed whether or not he actually gets an IV after games, how excited he was to beat Tennessee, and how he’s handling the end-of-year grind as a fifth-year senior.
Ashton Hagans talked about getting his braces off, whether he pouts like Kenny Payne says he does, and his increased defensive intensity.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 19th, 2019 @ 4:00pm
Another day, another accolade for PJ Washington. Yesterday, PJ was named SEC Player of the Week for his performances vs. LSU and Tennessee, and today, he was named Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week.
Last week, PJ averaged 21.5 points per game. On Saturday vs. No. 1 Tennessee, he had a game-high 23 points along with five rebounds, two steals, and an assist, shooting 75 percent from the floor (9-12). He’s scored 20 or more points in four straight games, the first Kentucky player to do so since Malik Monk in 2016. Over the last eight games, he is averaging 21.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, while shooting 54.4 percent and 50.0 percent from behind the arc.
PJ is the fifth Kentucky player to win the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award and the first since Kevin Knox on January 31, 2018 following his monster performance vs. West Virginia. Malik Monk (2016-17), Julius Randle (2013-14) and Doron Lamb (2010-11) have also brought home the honor.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 19th, 2019 @ 3:00pm
What if I told you Kentucky could be in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament, playing its first and second round games in Columbus, followed by the regional in Louisville, and their toughest competition to get to the Final Four would be Virginia, Purdue, and Iowa State?
That’s pretty much a dream scenario, right? It’s the one Joe Lunardi laid out in his latest Bracketology, which still has Kentucky as a two-seed to Virginia’s one-seed, but with that path, who cares?
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm also has Virginia and Kentucky as the top two seeds in the South, but with Houston as the three-seed and Iowa the four-seed:
Despite Saturday’s results, Lunardi and Palm still have Tennessee as a No. 1 seed, along with Duke, Virginia, and Gonzaga. The other twos? Michigan, Michigan State, and North Carolina.
I know we want a one-seed — and Kentucky’s chances of landing one are looking better and better — but is it worth it if we can be the two-seed in Louisville with a team like Virginia or Gonzaga as the one-seed?
1. The two players that Kentucky will be focusing the scouting report on for Missouri are Jordan Geist and Jeremiah Tilmon. Geist is a 6’2″, 180 senior who has really broken out this year, nearly doubling his scoring and improving most others. He’s the Tigers’ leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, to go along with 4.7 rebounds, a team-leading 3.1 assists, and one steal per game. Geist shoots 36.1% from three on the season. The senior plays with a lot of hustle and a bit of an edge to him. Sometimes that edge is a bit much, as he was T’ed up against the Cats last season for getting into it with Jarred Vanderbilt. In the frontcourt, Tilmon is the best big on the squad, standing at 6’10” and 252 pounds. The sophomore is averaging 10.9 points, a team-leading 5.7 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per contest. Tilmon won’t venture away from the paint a ton on offense, having attempted just one three in two seasons at Missouri, but he’s definitely improving as a mid-range threat. He’s shooting 71.4% from the free throw line, a massive improvement on his 52.6% from the charity stripe last season.
2. Despite what Coach Cal tried to build up to the media over the past few days to entice his players to not overlook Missouri, the Tigers’ woes this season are pretty easy to locate. Teetering on the verge of a losing record overall, and sporting a 3-9 SEC record, Missouri may be a team that has packed it in for the year. The Tigers are last in the SEC in scoring (295th in the country), last in the SEC in assists (324th in the country), and last in the SEC in assist to turnover ratio (330th in the country) with the second-most turnovers in the conference. Without a dominant post presence outside of Tilmon, they’ve struggled on the boards too, ranking 12th in the SEC in rebounding. The bright spot for the Tigers is that they can stroke from beyond the three-point arc, ranking third in SEC in three-point percentage and and fifth in total threes made. Although, they do struggle when scoring from anywhere but the three-ball, ranking 12th in overall shooting percentage in the SEC, 13th in field goals made, and 13th in free throws made.
3. Part of the blame for the struggles for Missouri is that the Tigers have caught the injury bug with some key players this season. Most notably, returning sophomore Jontay Porter’s season ended before it even began. The Tigers had a closed-door scrimmage in the preseason against Southern Illinois on October 21st, just 16 days before the first game of the regular season, which ended with Porter tearing both his ACL and MCL. Porter was going to be one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference this season, after choosing to pull out of the NBA Draft. After averaging nearly 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while shooting over 36% from three last season, Porter’s 6’11” and 240 pound body was NBA ready, but he chose to stay at Missouri. On top of the loss of Porter, the Tigers’ second-best scorer, Mark Smith, missed six straight games in SEC play due to an ankle injury. Smith just returned from that injury this past Saturday, but was clearly not back to 100%, playing just 14 minutes off the bench. Missouri needs Smith back healthy ASAP if they hope to make any sort of run in the SEC Tournament to try to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
4. When Missouri started the season 3-3, Head Coach Cuonzo Martin was still tinkering with how to play without their stud big-man. The Tigers got hot to finish out their non-conference schedule, winning all six of their games in the month of December to begin SEC play with a 9-3 record. Unfortunately for Missouri, starting conference play meant that the winning ways were coming to a close in a hurry. The Tigers lost six of their first seven games against teams from the Southeastern Conference, with the sole win coming at Texas A&M. Missouri certainly plays better at home than outside of Mizzou Arena, but the improvement hasn’t lead to a big change in the win column. Now sitting at just 12-12 on the season, the Tigers have all but burst their own bubble and chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
5. Of all the teams in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky has played Missouri the least amount, with just twelve total meetings between the two schools in the all-time series. The Cats lead the series 11-1 overall and they’re 7-1 in the John Calipari era. The only loss in the series for Kentucky actually came just over a year ago, as the Tigers held the Cats to just 31% shooting from the field and 2 of 20 from three in Columbia to get the 69-60 victory. Kentucky would later avenge that loss, as three weeks later, the Cats torched the Tigers for a 21-point win in Rupp Arena. Outside of last season’s loss, Kentucky has dominated since Cal took over at UK. The average margin of victory in the Calipari era is over 20 points per Wildcat win over the Tigers. The games at Mizzou Arena have been a tad closer, with UK’s three wins coming by an average of 10 points. Stemming from that point, the spread for tonight’s game, as of late last night, was UK -11. In reality, the Cats should be able to cover that with ease if they play anywhere remotely close to the level they played against Tennessee on Saturday.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.
Fresh off the statement win over Tennessee this past weekend, the Wildcats will hit the road to play a familiar foe. It’s been a rough second season in Columbia for Cuonzo Martin, but the Tigers do have some young talent on the roster. The Tigers are out of the running for an NCAA Tournament bid, but they’ll be looking to play spoiler as they continue to get their young players reps.
Kentucky has performed very well all season on the road and that is shown by their 6-1 record in true road games. After two monstrous home games against the other SEC championship contenders, a potential hangover game could be looming for the Wildcats in the late night tip. Can UK avoid a slip up?
Nuts and Bolts
Following a short playing career in the NBA, Cuonzo Martin returned to his alma mater to serve in an assistant role under both Gene Keady and Matt Painter at Purdue. After a successful three-year head coaching run at Missouri State that included a regular season Missouri Valley Conference title and two postseason appearances, Tennessee came calling following the dismissal of Bruce Pearl.
Martin was in Knoxville for three seasons and collected 63 wins with a Sweet 16 appearance and a top-10 KenPom finish in 2014. However, he was never fully embraced by the Rocky Top faithful and made the move to Berkeley to run the Cal program. There he would have a similar run as the one at Tennessee that included 62 wins and once NCAA Tournament appearance. After three years, he was on the move again.
Martin took the head coaching position at Mizzou prior to the 2017-2018 season and immediately made a splash. The Tigers landed the services of Michael Porter Jr. and his brother Jontay. They were immediately considered an SEC contender. However, injuries plagued the team all year and the Tigers would bow out in the Round of 64.
In year two it has been a total rebuild that is clearly shown in Mizzou’s 12-12 overall record. The Tigers were hit with a blow in the preseason when Jontay Porter was ruled out for the season. The young team has gotten exposed in SEC play and now they are playing for the future. This year, the shorthanded Tigers live and die by the three-point shot. They have struggled to find consistency at point guard and their bigs have been unable to protect the paint. It’s been another long season for this program. This has been an unfortunate regular occurrence for the Tigers since joining the SEC.
This will be the 13th meeting between the two programs with Kentucky leading the all-time series by a count of 11-1. Since joining the SEC, Mizzou is 1-7 against Kentucky with the last five losses occurring by double-digits. Overall, Cuonzo Martin is 2-5 against Kentucky during his head coaching career.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is an 11.5 point favorite with a total of 135. That’s a projected final score around 73-62. On the season, Kentucky is 14-10-1 against the spread while Missouri is 9-12-3. In SEC play, Mizzou is 4-7-1 against the number while UK is 7-4-1. UK is 5-1-1 against the spread in true road games this season. Mizzou is 3-2-1 against the number as a home dog this season.
Last year graduate transfer Kassius Robertson did a lot for the Tigers. The former Canisius guard logged a ton of minutes and was Mizzou’s go-to-guy when Michael Porter Jr. was ruled out of the lineup. His departure has unexpectedly set Mizzou back this season. This was not something many were anticipating.
Mizzou has used multiple players to fill the point guard spot and it’s been a roller coaster to say the least. In SEC play, the Tigers rank 14th in turnover percentage and 11th in assist rate. Mizzou is coughing the rock up on nearly a quarter of their possessions and that has made this one of the most inefficient offenses in the SEC.
The main weapon in the backcourt is senior Jordan Geist and the former junior college guard is giving this program everything he has. The guard starred at Ranger College playing for Billy Gillispie before making the switch to Division I. In 2018-2019, he’s having a career year in his third season in Columbia. Geist leads the team in minutes, three-pointers made, and free throws attempted. He’s putting up over 14 points per game to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He won’t back down from the moment.
Playing alongside Geist in the backcourt is true freshman Javon Pickett and the rookie from the Chicago area was a top-300 recruit out of high school. He’s the program’s future at the two-spot, but this has been a year full of growing pains. The rookie is shooting under 40 percent from the field and has more turnovers than assists.
On the wing, former UK recruiting target and Illinois transfer Mark Smith has been this team’s outside specialist. The Illinois native has been an excellent floor spacer for the Tigers shown by having 104 shots from three and only 54 from two-point range. The Tigers were without Smith for six games in SEC play and that desperately costed UM. The wing ranks 20th in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (.471) and will need to be on the floor for Mizzou to have a fighting chance.
Off the bench, two more freshmen are used for the Tigers. Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson have combined to attempt over 130 three-pointers and have played a lot this season. Pinson might actually be Mizzou’s best option at point while Watson is an energy player at this stage of his career.
Mizzou has a gutsy senior surrounded by a bunch of young pieces who are cutting their teeth in power conference basketball. It’s no surprise to see this team going through obvious growing pains this season.
In October, sophomore Jontay Porter was lost for the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL in a scrimmage. It totally changed the outlook for this year’s team and made Mizzou play without a potential lottery pick and All-SEC performer. With it, Mizzou put a lot more pressure on sophomore five-man Jeremiah Tilmon.
The 6-foot-10 and 252-pound sophomore is a large body and a key cog to Mizzou’s post offense. The East St. Louis native is shooting 57.1 percent from the field on his way to 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. On the defensive end, however, he has struggled to protect the paint. Foul trouble has been an issue for Tilmon his entire career and he’s fouled out of eight games this season. He just cannot stay on the floor.
Next to Tilmon, Kevin Puryear has stepped into a starting role for the loss of Jontay Porter. The undersized big provides Mizzou with solid rebounding but not much else. Off the bench, Reed Nikko has been used a lot due to Tilmon’s foul trouble issues and he brings size to the lineup (6-foot-10, 250 pounds).
Keys to Victory
- Kentucky will enter Mizzou Arena the much more talented and accomplished team. The Tigers are well on their way to a losing season while the Wildcats are playing for a one-seed. From the jump, Kentucky must bring the juice. Mizzou is a wounded team who could be taken out early with a fast start. Facing a team that can get hot from three, you don’t want to let this kind of underdog hang around.
- On the defensive end, Mizzou struggles to protect the paint. Opponents are shooting 51 percent from two-point range against the Tigers and they have no shot blockers to contest action at the basket. It should be a great opportunity for UK’s bigs. For Reid Travis, this could be a game where he could get multiple buckets on the block and leads the team in scoring.
- One way for Kentucky to get out to a healthy early lead would be to force some turnovers. Mizzou has major point guard issues and they’ve been turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Ashton Hagans could have a big day forcing havoc on defense and creating fast break opportunities for UK’s offense.
- Both Kentucky and Mizzou’s offense prefer to play at a slower pace. So this could be a low scoring affair. Don’t be surprised if UK limits their seventh conference foe to 55 points or less.
Back in 2012, things were looking up in the Show Me State when Mizzou announced they were leaving the Big XII for the SEC. The fans, as expected, seemed pretty excited and that joy was not just present in gridiron expectations. The Tigers were fresh off a 30-5 season in 2012 with a Big XII tournament championship. Expectations were very high with the Tigers having “faith in Haith”.
Well, Mizzou’s basketball run in the league has been about as ugly as that song and music video. The Tigers are are 41-79 in SEC play since joining the conference with only two NCAA Tournament appearances and zero tournament wins. Mizzou is on their third head coach since realignment and just can’t seem to get out of their own way on the hardwood.
Here’s to hoping this once proud program can return to respectability in basketball.
By Nick Roush on ©February 19th, 2019 @ 9:00am
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Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Tennessee is in the rearview morrow. Now it’s time for the fourth-ranked Wildcats to earn another SEC road win.
The duel between the Cats and the Tigers will be a nightcap. If the late tip doesn’t prematurely put you to sleep, Missouri’s credentials might. In Cuonzo Martin’s second season, the Tigers are .500 through 24 games, with only three wins in SEC play. Two of those were at Mizzou Arena, most recently defeating Arkansas by one last Tuesday.
Missouri is led by Jordan Geist. The 6’2″ combo guard from Ft. Wayne averages a team-high 14.2 points, 3.1 assists and one steal per game. Jeremiah Tilmon fortifies the post with 10.9 ppg and 5.7 rpg, while former UK shooting guard target Mark Smith fills it up from three-point range, knocking down 47.1 percent of his attempts to score 12.1 ppg.
On paper, the Tigers do not pose much of a threat, however, we’ve seen this song and dance before: Smith will catch fire, The Zou will go crazy and the Tigers will push UK against the ropes. The only question is, will Kentucky be able to weather the storm after an emotional victory?
“The Journey” is Here
They just keep getting better. From the wide shots of the crowd and Marlana’s National Anthem, to Kenny Payne’s pregame message to Ashton Hagans and John Calipari’s mispronunciation of “mano a mano,” Chapter 25 has it all.
“You’re prepared for this. What a great opportunity, literally for every guy in the room just to go play. This is a man-oh-man game. Let’s help each other.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 19, 2019
How to Watch and Listen
Kentucky is the late game on ESPN’s Super Tuesday slate, tipping off at 9:00 pm with Karl Ravech, Jimmy Dykes and Laura Rutledge on the call. If you can’t get in front of a TV, there are a few different ways you can listen to the Voice of the Wildcats:
- AM: 840 WHAS, 630 WLAP
- FM: 98.1 WBUL
- Satellite: XM-190 and Sirius-133
- Online: iHeart Radio
It should not surprise you to see that the Cats are 11-point favorites over the Tigers. The total is set for 133.5. Wager accordingly (but remember that UK is 8-1-1 ATS over the last ten games).
Prepare on the KSR Pregame Show
Before Kentucky tips-off in CoMo, listen to Matt Jones and the KSR crew preview the matchup between the Cats and the Tigers. All of the action begins on 630 WLAP or online at 6:30 pm.
You’ve seen it from just about every angle, but this time lapse of Hamidou Diallo’s dunk from the New York Times might be the most incredible image yet.
Georgia Offers Beau Allen
The Lexington Catholic four-star quarterback, and son of former Wildcat Bill Allen, has been on Kentucky’s radar for quite some time. After receiving the Blue Carpet treatment from Vince Marrow last weekend, the University of Georgia extended a scholarship offer to Allen. A Top 15 pocket-passer in the 2020 class, preventing Allen from leaving Lexington will not get any easier.
What is Trevor Lawrence Doing?
A month after winning a National Championship, quarterback Trevor Lawrence is playing intramural basketball at Clemson. It only takes one hardo to display why that’s a terrible idea.
Sure Trevor was a little rough, but you don’t set a screen on T-Law. You just don’t. pic.twitter.com/CBMeQvE8VN
— NATIONAL CHAMPIONS (@BarstoolClemson) February 19, 2019
You shouldn’t worry about a hard screen on Lynn Bowden at the JC. UK scholarship athletes aren’t allowed to play in officially sanctioned intramural leagues, a policy Clemson should consider adopting.
R.I.P. George Mendonsa
You might not remember Mr. Mendonsa’s name, but you’ve surely seen him before. George Mendonsa, who passed away yesterday at 95, is the sailor who was captured kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945.
The photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt is one of the most iconic and uplifting images of the 20th century. In a reunion with the nurse, Greta Zimmer Friedman, at Times Square in 2012, Mendonsa shared his side of the story.
“The excitement of the war bein’ over, plus I had a few drinks…So when I saw the nurse I grabbed her, and I kissed her.”
One final salute for an American Hero.
By Nick Roush on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 11:24pm
Beating Tennessee felt great. It feels even better after watching the latest installment of “The Journey.”
KyWildcatsTV goes above and beyond in each behind-the-scenes feature. This week is no exception. Before you start preparing for Kentucky’s Super Tuesday matchup with Missouri, you have to relive the destruction of the top-ranked team in America at Rupp Arena.
“You’re prepared for this. What a great opportunity, literally for every guy in the room just to go play. This is a man-oh-man game. Let’s help each other.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 19, 2019
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
From the initial tip to open the college basketball season to pregame warmups on Saturday evening, Tennessee junior forward Grant Williams has been deemed the runaway favorite to take home SEC Player of the Year honors this year.
Averaging 19.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, Williams has been the complete package. He’s shooting career-highs in field goal percentage (58.1 percent shooting on 10.8 shots per game) and free throw percentage (83.5 percent), also knocking down threes at a 34.4 percent clip (11-32 on the year).
Williams is polished in the paint, fights for loose balls, makes the right decisions more often than not, and is leader of the No. 1 team in the SEC. It’s hard to find many true flaws in his game.
But with the entire college basketball world watching on Saturday, Williams proved he wasn’t the best player in the SEC. That honor goes to Kentucky forward PJ Washington.
Finishing with 23 points (9-12 shooting, 1-2 from three), five rebounds, one assist, two blocks, and two steals, the Kentucky sophomore forward was easily the best player on the court on both ends. He got the team off to a hot start by scoring the first three baskets and seven points for the Wildcats, and kept that consistent energy throughout the game.
“He’s doing some good stuff,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “I mean, you are looking at him now making shots and skilled with the ball and stuff that a year ago he couldn’t do. Making free throws, playing, sustaining effort, not floating and coming in and out.”
When adversity hit, Washington was the first to respond on the big stage.
With Kentucky up by 24 points and Tennessee’s back up against the wall awaiting the knockout blow, the Volunteers fought through for a 13-0 run to cut the lead back down to just 11.
Who came to save the day? You guessed it, the 6-foot-7 power forward out of Dallas, who immediately forced his way inside for a tough lay-in, followed by a steal on the other end leading to two converted free throws for the sophomore forward. Those four points turned into seven of the team’s next nine points, pushing the Kentucky lead back up to 15.
They weathered the storm and the ship was righted as the Wildcats coasted to an 86-69 victory over the No. 1 team in the nation. And from start to finish, the captain of that ship was Washington.
When matched up with Williams in particular, it was like a switch was flipped for Washington, as the Wildcat big man went right at his throat time and time again. He’d establish himself in the post, create all the space he wanted, and sink jump hook after jump hook right over the outstretched hand of the talented Volunteer forward. On defense (combined with the efforts of Kentucky graduate transfer Reid Travis), they made nothing easy for the Tennessee forward who thrives against just about anybody thrown his direction.
It wasn’t even about the numbers, necessarily. Finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals, Williams didn’t have a bad game by any means. It had more to do with what happened beyond the pure Xs and Os out on the floor.
Above all else, Washington proved to be the tougher player willing to do whatever it took to grind out the victory. When things started slipping away for Tennessee, Williams resorted to flopping on the floor and yelping at the referees instead of bucking up and taking the game over like a junior star should. Washington smelled the blood in the water and went right for the Tennessee forward’s jugular.
And a big reason for that increased intensity had to do with Kentucky’s matchup with Tennessee in January of last year.
The Volunteers won at home by a score of 76-65, but the talented UT forward said Washington was “in (his) head a little bit” in their time matched up on the floor. After jumping out of the gates with force, cramps hit for the star Wildcat, forcing him to miss the rest of the game and allowing the Volunteers to hold on.
“He shut me down in the first half,” Williams said at the time. “I’ll give it to him. He was in my head a little bit. I think the cramps hurt their team a lot. Just the fact they were playing with so much confidence when he was in the game.”
From there, Washington knew, especially on Saturday, he could find both a physical and mental advantage over Williams.
That advantage led to a flat-out domination of the supposed top contender for the SEC Player of the Year award.
“When he said that I felt like I had an advantage tonight,” Washington said on Saturday. “Just try to keep going at him and keep going at their team. And just try to get a victory as we did tonight.”
Kentucky freshman guard Tyler Herro sensed the killer instinct kick in for Washington, as well. He could see the fear in Williams’ eyes, and if his Wildcat teammate can keep this level of play up moving forward, that same fear will strike for every team they face from now until the end of the season.
“I think they’re scared of him, honestly,” Herro said. “Scared of PJ. I think a lot of people are now that he’s scoring how he is and doing what he’s doing.”
Knowing that Williams took home SEC Player of the Year honors last year and is the frontrunner to do the same this season, Washington said he knew he had to give it everything he had against one of the best in the conference. And you better believe he’s happy with the result.
“I take every matchup personally,” he said. “I know everybody is out to get us, so I just need to be out to get them and bring my ‘A’ game every night. I have to be confident in my abilities and be confident in my teammates.
Cramps actually crept back in for Washington against Tennessee on Saturday, and Calipari believes it’s because he’s not used to playing with that physical edge from the opening tip through the final buzzer. The Kentucky head coach was impressed with the effort, but wants it to be more consistent moving forward.
“Well, one of the things is we just went at him,” he said. “We’re just like, ‘go.’ And he also, we like him at the top of the key shooting some threes because he can make that shot. But the whole thing, again, no lapses, none, get to where you’re a vicious competitor the entire time and then sub yourself. Today he subbed himself. And I hate to tell you he got cramps. What does that tell you? It’s probably harder than he’s gone all year. That’s why you cramp up.”
Calipari said that he is ecstatic to talk to people around the basketball world about Washington because of the dramatic growth he has seen from year one to year two. The Kentucky head coach believes there isn’t a doubt in his mind his star forward is the most improved player in all of college basketball, and a big reason for that is because he just wants it more than everyone else.
“You know, what makes me happy is when I’m hearing people call me and say, ‘Cal, he’s the most improved guy in the country,'” he said. “Like ‘he is it.’ And a big part of that was conditioning and toughness and focus. And when you understand that it’s not going to be easy and there’s no easy road, that I’ve got to compete every day, you probably got it licked because you’re competing against yourself. You’re trying to conquer yourself. PJ finishes first in every run we do right now. Every run we do, Kenny Payne’s screaming and yelling, ‘don’t let him finish first’ and guys are trying to chase him down and he ain’t letting them.”
When asked about what it feels like to dominate the way he did on the big stage against the No. 1 team in the nation, Washington said it’s a “blessing” to represent his “dream school” in the way they did.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It shows everyone that we can still play with great teams in this league and in this country,” he said. “To have an atmosphere like that was great. There was one point in the first half I couldn’t hear. I was trying to talk to Ash (Ashton Hagans) and I couldn’t even hear myself. This was my dream school growing up, so just to be here is a blessing for me. To go out there and beat a No. 1 team is just more than I could ask for. I’m just so proud of my teammates because of all the hard work we’ve been putting in. Everybody has been doubting us, but we feel like we deserve this.”
With the dust settled from the victory over Tennessee, is PJ Washington the best player in the SEC?
If you ask him, absolutely.
“Being the competitor that I am, I would say yes, I am the best player in the SEC,” Washington said.” But I feel like our team is the best team in the SEC, and without my teammates, I’m nothing.”
The Vegas oddsmakers have spoken. For Kentucky to hold onto the title of, “Covering Cats,” they’ll have to score quite a few points.
Kentucky opened as 11-point favorites over the Tigers. The total for Tuesday night’s matchup at Mizzou Arena is 133.5. The Cats are 8-1-1 against the spread over the last ten games.
Tip-off between the 12-12 Tigers (3-9 in the SEC) and the Wildcats is set for 9:00 on ESPN.
By Nick Roush on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 9:55pm
If Ashton Hagans hit a wall prior to the Tennessee game, he leapt over it against the Volunteers.
The Kentucky point guard had a tough three-game stretch leading into the showdown against the top-ranked team in the country. During that time he averaged 4.6 points and assists per game, committed nine turnovers and forced just three steals.
“He’s a freshman. He hit a little bit of a wall,” Calipari said Friday afternoon. “He’s not played well at all. This is a game where we’re going to need him to get back to where he was ten, twelve days ago.”
Kentucky got exactly what they needed Saturday. In 36 minutes of action he had seven assists, a pair of steals and only one turnover. What changed so quickly for Hagans?
“After practice one day, he (Calipari) came in, he showed us North Carolina tape, when I got a lot of steals and I was playing aggressive,” Hagans modestly described his eight-steal performance. “He was just showing the videos, then he would stop after every steal. Then, everybody turned around and started looking at me. And (Calipari) was like ‘who was that’ and they would say ‘that’s Ashton with the braces.‘”
Hagans did not get his braces back for the Tennessee game, but he did bring intense focus to the table.
“For him to have some success against him (Jordan Bone) was vital because we have been on him about being focused, being disciplined, being disruptive, and it’s hard,” said associate head coach Kenny Payne.
“He’s never worked as hard as he has worked here. He’s never had to focus as much as he is having to focus here, and he is a freshman. There are times when he pouts; we have to address it. There are times when he’s immature; we have to address it. But then there’s times when he is locked in, and that’s has been a big difference in our team. When he’s locked in, we are really good.”
Coach Cal forced Hagans to address his shortcomings and implored the rest of the team to push him over top of the wall. They happily obliged.
“It’s tough, I mean, it’s a long season,” said Reid Travis, “but, this group, everyone is excited about what we have on the horizon…I think that’s what really helps everybody is that we’re all in here trying to get better, working hard every day. So you can really get over that mental fatigue when everyone has so much excitement about what’s about to come for us in the next couple of games, next couple of months.”
If Hagans and the rest of the Wildcats avoid hitting another wall, the horizon could be filled with winning until April.
See everything Hagans and Travis said Monday afternoon here.
Kenny Payne took the spotlight from John Calipari in Monday’s pre-Missouri trip press conference in Lexington. UK’s assistant coach spoke for fifteen minutes about the Cats’ win over Tennessee, what’s ahead in Tuesday night’s game in Columbia and a lot more about the team. You can watch the entire thing here or you can read a five-note summary of Payne’s comments below:
1. Winning the SEC is important to this team.
“For this group, I think it means a lot,” Payne said, when asked about the importance of winning the conference. “I think these kids need to know that they are champions, that they are the gold standard of this conference, and not just by our eyes but everybody’s eyes. That’s important. That’s important for them to feel good about the work that they’ve put in, how hard we train, how hard we practice, how hard Coach Cal pushes these kids in order to be a great team, and the result of that is winning. So, as much as we can win, we want to win.”
He said it’s important for the Cats to believe they’re the gold standard because, “when we get into an NCAA tournament, every game is intense. Every game is every possession matters. Defensively, the way that game went against Tennessee is how we have to play in that tournament, so that’s vital. That’s vital.”
2. When Ashton Hagans is locked in, like he was Saturday against Tennessee, Kentucky is really good.
Ashton Hagans broke out of a multi-game funk by playing well against Tennessee, but Payne said it was even more important for Hagans to do it against Tennessee’s star point guard, Jordan Bone, who people consider the best point guard in the conference.
“More than just Tennessee, against what people consider the No. 1 point guard in this conference,” Payne said, “for him to have some success against him was vital because we have been on him about being focused, being disciplined, being disruptive, and it’s hard.
“He’s never worked as hard as he has worked here. He’s never had to focus as much as he is having to focus here, and he is a freshman. There are times when he pouts, we have to address it. There are times when he’s immature, we have to address it. But then there’s times when he is locked in, and that’s has been a big difference in our team. When he’s locked in, we are really good.”
When asked what makes Hagans pout, Payne shrugged it off as Hagans being a normal 18-year-old kid. (Fun fact: Hagans is actually 19, but you get the point.)
3. Grant Williams’ physicality played right into Reid Travis’ hands.
“I think Williams has really tortured this conference with his physical play. He’s dominated this conference, not just this year, last year as well with physical play,” Payne said of Tennessee’s star big man.
But as we saw on Saturday, Williams met his match in Kentucky’s Reid Travis. Payne said Williams’ physical playing style fit right into Travis’ hands, calling Travis a “very physical forward who has really learned to move his feet and be defensive here.”
“It doesn’t always show up in the stats, what he means to this program, but I can only say this to you guys: I can’t imagine Reid Travis not on this team and what he’s meant,” Payne added. “Imagine being at Stanford for the last two years, averaging 20 and eight and nine. You come here, the numbers aren’t the same, but your impact on the program is more because now you’re winning against the No. 1 team in the country. You’re beating teams, and you’re a major part of that, and it’s not centered around you getting 20. You’re playing with other great players. You’re learning to sacrifice, to be a great teammate and to play winning basketball.”
4. It was a “class act” for Calipari to silence the overrated chant.
Payne admitted he had no thoughts on the “overrated” chant, but noted Coach Cal respects all of his opponents, especially Rick Barnes and Tennessee.
“We’re Kentucky, we don’t have to do that,” Payne said of the late-game taunting. “We don’t have to talk about a team being overrated. They do it to us, but we’re not going to do that to them. I thought it was a class act for Coach Cal to do that.”
5. Forcing turnovers will be a point of emphasis in Tuesday night’s game plan.
Missouri has trouble taking care of the basketball, so Kentucky will try to exploit that weakness by really trying to force turnovers. It just so happens that creating havoc is one of Kentucky’s best weapons, thanks to the coaching of Calipari and his defensive-minded assistant, Tony Barbee.
“I think that Coach Barbee and Coach Cal have done an unbelievable job of getting this team to buy into defense,” Payne said. “They work together hand in hand. Coach gives Tony a bunch of responsibilities and different strategies, different ways of guarding different things. And what we found is that is when we are the aggressor defensively and we are swarming, we’re pretty good, which leads into transition baskets.
“That’s the way we want to play. So, the fact that Missouri has shown a tendency to turn the ball over, our job is to pressure them, and we have to pressure them without fouling and allow that to get us in transition where our young players are comfortable, and they are really fast and they are really athletic and they are tough to deal with. This team, when we are getting transition baskets and we are playing free, it’s a different atmosphere. Ashton Hagans starts that with his on-the-ball defense, and then when we get the rebound or a steal in his hands and he flies up the court, we are different.”
Sounds like a good plan for tomorrow night. Let’s do that.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 4:00pm
Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Tennessee was the undeniably the biggest of the season, and with three games remaining against Quadrant 1 opponents, the Cats can polish their NCAA Tournament resume up even more in hopes of securing a No. 1 seed. As we do each Monday, let’s examine the Cats’ team sheet.
If you’re not familiar with team sheets, they’re what the Selection Committee uses to pick and seed teams in the NCAA Tournament. Wins are sorted into four quadrants using the opponent’s NET ranking:
- Quadrant 1: Home Game 1-30; Neutral Site 1-50; Away Game 1-75
- Quadrant 2: Home Game 31-75; Neutral Site 51-100; Away Game 76-135
- Quadrant 3: Home Game 76-160; Neutral Site 101-200; Away Game 136-240
- Quadrant 4: Home Game 161-plus; Neutral Site 201-plus; Away Game 241-plus
On the team sheet, the opponent’s NET ranking is listed on the left, followed by the site of the game (home/neutral/away), the name of the opponent, and the result. Quadrant 1 is obviously the most important, but losses in Quadrants 2-4 can be resume killers.
Here’s Kentucky’s team sheet through February 17:
My two cents:
— Kentucky can add a Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 1 win to the sheet this week in No. 92 Missouri and No. 21 Auburn. Even though it feels like Bruce Pearl’s team has fallen off the map, they’re still No. 21 in the NET rankings, making Saturday’s game big. Don’t forget, Austin Wiley didn’t play in last month’s game at Auburn; he’s back in the lineup now and could be a difference maker on Saturday.
— The Cats’ eight Quadrant 1 wins are the third most in the country behind Michigan State (10) and Kansas (9).
— That Seton Hall loss is sure looking better, isn’t it? The Pirates rose five spots in the NET rankings this week after beating Georgetown and Creighton. If they can jump another ten spots, that game will slide into Quadrant 1, making Kentucky’s resume look even better. They play St. John’s on Saturday.
Go Pirates. Go Cats.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 2:45pm
PJ Washington is playing the best basketball of his life right now; however, John Calipari isn’t willing to give his star any slack. All season, Cal’s been hard on PJ, and as the sophomore’s play has improved, his coach’s critiques have just gotten louder, which associate head coach Kenny Payne says of Cal’s way of pushing PJ to new heights.
“So proud of PJ and what he’s done,” Payne told reporters today. “Love the way that he’s approaching the game. And you’re right, Coach has been really, really focused on him playing to a certain standard. Last six games, he was unbelievable to finish games and Coach said, ‘You’re going to get rebounds — attempts — 60 percent of the time. That’s not who you are. You have to be a 90 percent attempt rebounder. Don’t mean you get them, but you attempt 90 percent of the time.’ So, as the world is giving him all this praise, Coach Cal is saying, ‘I need more.’ And that’s what this is about. You can see it in his play.”
After PJ scored 23 points at Mississippi State last week, Calipari reminded the team that he only had three rebounds. PJ’s face afterwards was priceless:
In Tuesday night’s loss to LSU, PJ tied Reid Travis for a team-high nine rebounds, but only had five on Saturday vs. Tennessee. Afterwards, Calipari said the staff is keeping track of those rebound attempts.
“We keep attempts, focus — at the end of every game that’s the first thing I look at is what were their attempts. And I told you, PJ started going down, down, down, as he started scoring more thinking, I’m a scorer, I’m not a rebounder.”
So, what happens if PJ does become a 90-percent attempt rebounder like Cal wants?
“If he gets to 100, it’s going to be 105,” Payne quipped.