JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — With PJ Washington watching from the bench in a cast, second-seeded Kentucky romped to a 79-44 victory over NCAA Tournament newcomer Abilene Christian on Thursday night.
Keldon Johnson scored 25 points in a huge mismatch that was over by halftime. The Wildcats shot 60 percent in the opening period, held Abilene Christian to 5 of 26 from the field and went to the locker room with a 39-13 lead.
Even without Washington, who sprained his left foot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Wildcats had far too many weapons for the Southland Conference representative, a No. 15 seed. Reid Travis added 18 points and Tyler Herro 14.
Kentucky advanced to the second round of the Midwest Regional on Saturday to face either Wofford or Seton Hall, who were playing in the final game of a long day in Jacksonville.
The big question: Will Washington be able to go?
Coach John Calipari tweeted before the game that a foot specialist confirmed the injury was only a sprain, not a fracture. But Washington certainly didn’t look close to returning as he zipped around the arena on a scooter, a hard cast covering much of his lower left leg.
Kentucky could certainly afford to be cautious against their overmatched opponent in the opening round. Abilene Christian is also known as the Wildcats, but that was about the only thing these teams have in common.
The striking disparity — one of the nation’s most storied programs vs. a small Texas school not far removed from playing in Division II — was best epitomized by the point guards. Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, a 6-foot-3 freshman who was one of the nation’s top recruits. Abilene Christian countered with 5-7 freshman Damien Daniels, who struggled just to get up a shot and missed all five of his attempts.
Making the odds of an upset even more remote, Abilene Christian kicked two starters off the team for disciplinary reasons last month.
The biggest scare for Kentucky came with just under 2 minutes remaining when Nick Richards went down hard after getting his legs cut out from under him going for a rebound. After pounding the court several times in pain, he was able to get up, shoot a pair of free throws and finish the game.
Abilene Christian: It didn’t take long to figure out this team simply wasn’t in the same class as Kentucky. But just making it this far was a victory for a still-fledgling Division I program. Jaren Lewis led the JV Wildcats with 17 points, the only player in double figures.
Kentucky: It’s hard to get much of a gauge on Calipari’s team with Washington sitting out and the opponent providing little more than a glorified scrimmage. The next game will surely be a much tougher challenge.
Abilene Christian: Returns to Texas with a lifetime of memories and facing the challenge of replacing three senior starters.
Kentucky: Seton Hall would provide the Wildcats with a rematch against the team that handed them one of their two nonconference losses (the other was Duke). This is the ninth time in Calipari’s decade-long tenure in Lexington that his team has advanced at least to the second round of the NCAAs. The only exception was 2013, when the Wildcats failed to make the field and settled for the NIT.