Post Duo Helps Deliver Another Statement Win
Reid Travis and PJ Washington heard all about Dedric Lawson.
Lawson got his against Kentucky, but he left the game telling people about Travis and Washington.
“It’s definitely tough playing against two bigs like that,” Lawson said.
Even as Lawson put up 20 points and 15 rebounds, Travis and Washington combined to become a single force of nature in a Kentucky win. UK’s post duo combined for 38 points and 25 rebounds as the No. 8/9 Wildcats (16-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) downed the No. 9/10 Jayhawks (16-4, 5-2 Big 12) 71-63 in front of a sold-out crowd of 24,387 Saturday evening in Rupp Arena.
“They got a guy that they ride a lot and they should,” said Travis, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds. “He’s a talented player. We knew if we could bring waves at him offensively, defensively we could have fresh bodies and we’re really confident with the four bigs that we have. I think that really played in our favor, that we could bring fresh bigs in as much as we did.”
Benefiting from the 16 combined minutes Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery played, Travis and Washington each posted double-doubles. Things were far from pretty for UK, particularly during a first half in which the Cats shot just 33.3 percent from the field, but Travis steadied the ship as UK’s go-to guy inside, scoring 12 points.
“It was huge,” said Washington, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds. “He couldn’t be stopped down low. We tried to feed him the ball every time and he was getting fouled our making a basket. We just kept feeding him and he kept getting points.”
Washington, meanwhile, attacked the glass with reckless abandon – grabbing nine rebounds – but participated in UK’s first-half shooting struggles. He missed five of his eight shots, but was confident that would change after the Cats escaped the first half down just three points.
“We didn’t make any shots,” Washington said. “We couldn’t make anything. We weren’t making layups, 3s, floaters, nothing. We knew that we were going to make shots the second half.”
Indeed, Washington and the Cats found their groove after halftime with 48-percent shooting and four made 3s. Washington had 14 points in the second half alone, delivering exactly the kind of performance his coach has been asking of him.
Washington’s play helped UK build a big enough lead that the Jayhawks had to scramble and foul late. Twice in a row, the ball came to Washington in that situation. Ten months removed from an 8-for-20 free-throw performance in a Sweet 16 loss to Kansas State, Washington calmly sank four from the stripe to allow the Cats to withstand a late 3-point barrage by Kansas.
“He had a different spirit about him,” Calipari said. “There was no tentativeness.”
Washington’s coaches have always said that Kentucky’s ultimate fate will have a lot to do with the development of the sophomore forward. It’s certainly no coincidence, then, that the Cats have now won three straight games against ranked opponents to reassert themselves on the national stage as Washington blossoms. During those wins over Auburn, Mississippi State and now Kansas, Washington is averaging 18 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
“I think when he plays at a different pace, a different level of intensity, a different level of bouncing and alertness, I’m telling you, he’s as good as anybody in the country,” Calipari said.
The same, it seems, can be argued about this Kentucky team. The Cats surged back into the top 10 after a win at Auburn last weekend and appear poised to rise further after a banner week that gives them wins over five teams currently ranked in both polls, with two coming on the road.
The question for Kentucky, however, isn’t how good the Cats are right now. It’s how good they can eventually become. Even they don’t know the answer yet.
“We don’t know where the ceiling is,” Washington said. “We just gotta keep going every day, just keep working hard and fight each other in practice so we can do that in games.”