Photo | Keyli Chisesi
Washington’s 23 Point Effort not Enough to Please Calipari; Challenges Sophomore to be Better
STARKVILLE, MS – Kentucky sophomore forward PJ Washington scored a game-high 23 points to lead the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats to a regular season sweep of Mississippi State but it wasn’t enough to satisfy John Calipari.
Washington knocked down 9-of-13 shot attempts, as Kentucky held off a second half surge to leave Starkville with a 71-67 victory. Despite the win and the effort, Calipari’s message for Washington is to be better.
“He (PJ) didn’t play bad. I think he’s the best player in the country but not like he played today,” said John Calipari.
Entering Saturday’s matchup vs. the Bulldogs, Washington looked like the best player in the country in the Wildcats previous five victories. In wins vs. Mississippi State, Kansas, Vanderbilt, Florida, and South Carolina, Washington averaged 20.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. In that stretch, he shot 48.7 percent from the field, 47.1 percent three-point line, and 76.9 percent from the free throw line.
Calipari has noted the change in Washington’s energy and spirit during the Wildcats ten game winning streak. However, on Saturday, Calipari thought that spirit was missing in areas of Washington’s game.
“He didn’t go get rebounds, he didn’t get loose balls, missed one footers, missed every free throw. Come on, if you’re the best, play that way,” said Calipari. “Come out with great energy and a motor. It’s not about made shots, it’s about how you play.”
Following Kentucky’s win vs. Vanderbilt two weeks ago, Calipari said scouts praised Washington’s effort in the win vs. Kansas, even though he missed ten shots, including all four attempts from long range. So, even though Washington scored Kentucky’s first 8 points of the game on Saturday and connected on all three, three-point attempts, it’s not about making shots.
“My point is, you have to conquer yourself. Before you worry about conquering someone else, you have to conquer your own mind and again, obviously, PJ is not quite there yet because he reverted. And him reverting, he ends up with 23 points, but he only gets three rebounds and he fouls out. I’m telling you, he’s better than that.”
No matter how you look at it, it’s eye opening how hard Calipari is challenging Washington. The entire postgame press conference was a challenge to him. How will Washington respond? Well, if 23 points in a tough road environment is reverting, Kentucky will be unbeatable when Washington plays well enough to please Calipari.