JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (KT) — Nick Richards made an early prediction on Kentucky’s contest against Wofford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and pushed aside any doubts of a potential upset during a press conference Friday even as Kentucky marches on without leading scorer PJ Washington.
The sophomore forward said the Wildcats’ size around the rim is “a good advantage for us. Their bigs are really skilled around the basket, they know how to move on the floor, but we're just better than them overall, I think, so the advantage is our way, in my opinion."
The confidence displayed by Richards caught Kentucky coach John Calipari by surprise but he expects him to walk the talk on the court.
“What are you doing, Nick?” he said. “But that's OK, because like if you speak, now what? You back it up. So I love his confidence. Now I want to watch you do it. Now get out there and do it, if you think that. I want Nick to be more confident. Not like that, but on the court, more confident.”
The Wildcats (28-6), the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, will take on the Terriers (30-4) at 2:40 p.m. Saturday, with the winner earning a ticket to next week’s Sweet 16 in Kansas City.
Wofford takes a 21-game winning streak into the contest and advanced to the second round following an 84-68 win over Seton Hall Thursday night. The Wildcats made it look easy after disposing of Abilene Christian 79-44 on Thursday.
Kentucky likely will be without Washington, the team’s leading scorer for a second straight game. Washington sprained his foot in Kentucky’s 82-78 loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference semifinals last Saturday in Nashville. He didn't play in the tourney opener against Abilene Christian and watched and cheered from the sideline with his injured foot in a cast.
Calipari offered no updates on Washington’s progress on Friday other than the fact all tests were negative.
“What they're going to do at some point is cut the cast off … they just thought it would heal faster. I know there's all this, it's a conspiracy — I’m telling you, it was negative in every X-ray, MRI,” he said. “We even did an RIM. It's sprained.”
Wofford and its 3-point threat Fletcher Magee and the rest of his supporting cast will present a problem for Kentucky, especially on the perimeter. The Terriers made 13 treys, including seven by Magee in the tournament opener against the Pirates.
“I think what makes him such a good shooter is he has a lot of confidence,” Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley said. “He also has a really green light, so when you've got that green light, you know you're going to make some and you're going to miss some. He lives with it, he's a really good player, and we've just got to be ready for all that.”
Calipari wasn’t surprised when the bracket was released last Sunday and saw a potential matchup with the Terriers, who lost close encounters during the regular season to North Carolina (78-67), Oklahoma (75-64) and Mississippi State (98-87). The team’s most lopsided setback was a 72-47 loss to Kansas.
“I called this. I knew we'd be playing this team, and my team knew, because I told them before, we would be playing Wofford because you and I know how hard this game will be, especially with PJ out, how hard a game it'll be for us,” he said.
Gametracker: Wofford vs. Kentucky, 2:40 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.