LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky finally got an easy victory.
PJ Washington scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the 10th-ranked Wildcats to a dominating 96-58 rout of North Dakota on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena. Kentucky (2-1) has won two in a row since falling to No. 1 Duke in the team’s season opener more than a week ago in Indianapolis.
Washington, who scored 11 points in Kentucky’s first two games combined, knocked down four 3-pointers in five attempts and missed just four field goals after scoring just three points in Kentucky’s 71-59 win over Southern Illinois last week.
“He’s been working,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “ … and 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 guys 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.”
Washington said foul woes were a hindrance in the first two games.
“I feel like the first two games I got into foul trouble really quick,” he said. “I just tried to be solid and to get rebounds and just try to create for everybody. Just try to knock down some shots. I feel like once I saw a couple go in, it kind of just opened up for me.”
Freshman Tyler Herro followed Washington with 18 points, also a career-high, to go along with three assists and five steals. Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley added 12 points each and Reid Travis rounded out five players in double figures with 11 points. Johnson added 10 rebounds for the Wildcats, who held a dominating 45-15 edge on the glass in the first meeting between the two schools.
“I thought Keldon was outstanding,” Calipari said. “Double, double, played hard.”
Calipari liked his team’s defensive intensity. Kentucky forced 20 turnovers and collected five steals against the Fighting Hawks (2-1).
“I liked the fact that we turned somebody over finally, that I’ve gone back to old school, here’s how we’re doing this, and I’m holding them accountable,” he said, “I told them, you don’t do what I’m asking you to do, I’m making it very clear, you’re choosing not to, you’re going to hear it and then deal with it. And if you’re afraid to play because I get on you, then don’t play. I mean, the best thing that happened to us is, me personally, not these kids, figuring out that I had moved way too fast and beyond what they really knew or knew how to play.”
Washington said the Wildcats simply went back to the basics to get back on track.
“That was the main focus for us,” he said. “We worked on setting screens, rebounding and that was pretty much it. Those two were the main focuses and our defense as well.”
Conner Avants led North Dakota with 14 points, followed by Flip Rebraca with 13.
MAXEY SIGNS WITH CATS
South Garland High School (Texas) senior Tyrese Maxey signed a national letter-of-intent to play for the Wildcats Wednesday, becoming Kentucky’s first signee from the class of 2019.
Maxey, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound five-star standout point guard, is rated as the No. 2 point guard in the current senior class and averaged 22.5 points and seven rebounds per game last season. Maxey was one of the top players in the Nike circuit last summer.
“Growing up watching Coach Cal-led teams, all the way back to Memphis, he always lets his guards play,” Maxey said. “He has a track record of developing guards and helping them reach their potential. I want to be coached and I know Coach Cal will push me and hold me accountable. I’m happy to be a part of this great tradition.”
Calipari said Maxey “has unbelievable competitive spirit.”
“I love Tyrese’s basketball savvy,” Calipari said. “He has an elite ability to score the ball, yet he creates shots for his teammates, he defends and he rebounds. In all the time I’ve watched him play, rarely does he make the wrong play. He may not make every shot, but he almost always makes the right play. You can tell that he’s a coach’s son. Physically he is going to be able to compete with the best in the country.”
Gametracker:VMI at Kentucky, Sunday, 6 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.