PJ Washington needed a big night. The sophomore had only eleven points in Kentucky’s first two games, but came out and made a statement tonight with a career-high 25 points in the Cats’ 96-58 rout of North Dakota.
What changed? The Fighting Hawks were by far Kentucky’s weakest competition thus far, which certainly helped, but PJ’s career-high four threes stretched the floor and helped the Cats maximize mismatches. After noting some problems with his stance earlier this week, John Calipari praised PJ’s shooting tonight.
“He can shoot it. He’s been working. If you watch, he went from knees to shoot it to chest and shoot it. So now he doesn’t have all that extra motion that leads to missed shots and air balls and bank misses. Even, if you watched, I got on him about his free throw. He went to his knees again and then up and stopped it, and I said, no, you get that thing right here, that’s your shot now.”
North Dakota head coach Brian Jones said PJ’s shooting gives Kentucky another dimension.
“If they can continue to do that, it’s going to make them hard to defend. Obviously, Washington really shot the ball well. But I think it’s going to help all of them so you can’t really key on Reid [Travis] inside. If they’ve got multiple bigs that can stretch the floor, it’s going to open up driving lanes for those quick guards and obviously give those bigs more room to work down low.”
Against Duke, PJ struggled with foul trouble. Against Southern Illinois, he seemed bothered by a taped-up hand. Tonight, he looked much more like himself, going 9-13 from the floor, 4-5 from beyond the arc, for 25 points with seven rebounds, a block, an assist, and a steal, all in 17 minutes. PJ still had three turnovers, but all were in the first half. His efficiency (points + rebounds + assists + steals + blocks – missed shots – turnovers) was a team-best 26 and his Game Score, a measure of productivity on a scale of 0-40, was 19.8. For comparison, his Game Score vs. Southern Illinois was -1.3.
It’s not a coincidence that PJ played with a renewed sense of urgency the first game after Calipari went back to his old school methods in practice. Calipari made it very clear this week that he’s only playing players that give 100 percent, which is what PJ delivered tonight.
“The other thing is, like I told him, I said if he chooses to come out and play with that kind of intensity, he’s a difference maker. He’s a separator. But the other guy standing straight up and down, balls going between your legs, can’t get a rebound, fumbling the ball, that guy ain’t a separator. And he is one of those guys.
“I still say he’s one of the best players. Now he’s got to go prove it. And I hate it when someone says, well, more motor, he needs more motor. That’s basically saying you’re not playing hard enough. I don’t want to hear that about any of my players. His, he, when he competes and goes after it, he’s physically tough, he’s mentally tough, he’s skilled, he’s just got to do it. That’s who he’s got to be every moment he’s on the court.”