NCAA Tournament: UK-Wofford preview

Wildcats, Terriers tangle in Jacksonville in second-round game Saturday

NCAA Tournament: UK-Wofford preview
John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats will play the Wofford Terriers in an NCAA Tournament second-round game Saturday.

(WAVE) - Kentucky star PJ Washington won’t play against Wofford in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament second-round matchup. That is official.

Or is it?

UK coach John Calipari said at Friday’s media availability that his Wildcats won’t have Washington.

“You and I know how hard this game will be, especially with PJ out,” Calipari said of Washington, the team’s top scorer (14.8 points per game) and rebounder (7.5).

Washington arrived at the team’s practice in Jacksonville, Fla., on Tuesday wearing a walking boot, assumed by many to have just been a precaution. But Thursday, Washington was in a hard cast.

And when pressed a second time about the matter ...

“I just can’t imagine,” Calipari said. “What they’re gonna do at some point is cut the cast off and ... they just feel it’s gonna heal faster.”

Nonetheless, Kentucky remained a 5.5-point favorite more than an hour after Calipari’s comments. Even without their best player, the Wildcats are the better team on paper, but don’t go booking Sweet Sixteen trips to Kansas City just yet.

When Wofford takes the floor at Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday afternoon, the Terriers will have with them a guy named Fletcher Magee, whose 509 career three-pointers are the most in NCAA history.

Locked in a tight second half after leading Seton Hall comfortably before intermission, the Terriers closed on a 17-2 run to win their NCAA opener Thursday, 84-68. Fletcher made a three-pointer during that final stretch -- one of his seven on the night -- but when he wasn’t able to create a shot in the closing minutes, teammate Nathan Hoover made a pair of threes to help 7th-seeded Wofford coast to its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.

Magee leads the team in scoring (20.5 points per game) and shoots 43 percent from three-point range. Fellow guards Hoover and Storm Murphy shoot threes at 46 and 48 percent, respectively, while averaging a combined 21.5 points per game.

“What makes (Magee) such a good shooter is he has a lot of confidence and he has that green light,” UK’s Nick Richards said Friday.

Calipari acknowledged Magee’s ability to take over a game, but said his team could have an answer for all those sharp-shooting perimeter players.

“They’re gonna take 25-26 threes in this game,” he said. “The one thing we do have is we’re long, so we can contest without fouling.”

Calipari, whose media availability followed that of his players, jabbed Richards after hearing his sophomore forward may have been too confident in his assessment that Kentucky’s bigs are better than Wofford’s.

“What are you doing, Nick?” Calipari asked. “That’s OK, because, like if you speak, now what? You back it up. So I love his confidence. Now I’m gonna watch you do it, if you think that.”

One of those Wofford bigs, Cameron Jackson, sounded respectful but not intimidated.

“We’ve definitely watched Kentucky,” said Jackson, the Terriers leading rebounder (7.5 rebounds per game) and second-leading scorer (14.6 points). “They’re on TV all the time. They’re a very talented team. They’ve got a lot of guys who can score the ball. They’re very athletic. It’s gonna be a tough game, but we’re welcoming the challenge.”

Wofford coach Mike Young agreed: “The thought of Wofford coming back on Saturday to face off against one of the great programs in our country in the Kentucky Wildcats, that’s pretty cool stuff. We look forward to it.”

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