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Wildcat newcomers Washington, Diallo lead Team USA to victory in first exhibition game

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

It didn’t take long for Team USA to get down to business on its arrival in Cairo, Egypt earlier this week.

Coach John Calipari’s Team USA squad defeated Lithuania 89-66 in an exhibition game late Wednesday local time. The team’s top two scorers were Calipari’s own incoming University of Kentucky players.

Kentucky freshman guard PJ Washington led the team in scoring with 18 points, while Hamido Diallo followed with 17 points. Calipari praised the performances by his two future players in the tuneup.

“Hami didn’t play for me last year, he practiced, so this is all new,” he said. “But, he’s going to be fine, and PJ Washington is what he is, he’s a beast.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari and Team USA defeated Lithuania in an exhibition game earlier this week in Cairo, Egypt. (Team USA Photo)

Diallo enrolled at Kentucky at mid-term but didn’t play last season. Diallo said “it felt good to get out there on my feet after he long flights.”

“I feel like we played well but there are a bunch of things that we can get better at,” he said. “I felt good. That’s the first time in an official game in a long time and I felt good. I think I played well, but I’ve got to get better on a bunch of things. I’m still a little rusty, but I felt like I played well and helped my team come up with a (win).”

Calipari admitted Team USA was a “little sluggish in the first half,” but picked up the pace in the second half and pieced together a strong finish. Like Diallo, Calipari said the team is a work in progress.

“I thought in the second half our pressure and our athleticism kind of wore them down,” the Kentucky coach said. “But, our execution is not great. Our biggest issue right now is defensively we don’t talk enough, and they haven’t been together long enough to really know how we wanted to play. I’ve got 10 days to get these guys talking more, playing off one another more. I’m happy were doing a couple scrimmages, so we understand how it is.”

Calipari said the first-half performance mirrored those he experiences at Kentucky.

“Being the coach at Kentucky I see this all the time,” he said. “(In) the first half early in the game teams go crazy, eventually you try to wear them down and then you try to get them at some point in the second half, and I told the guys that.”

Despite the 23-point victory, Calipari said his squad has plenty of room to improve, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

“We’re not where we need to be defensively. That is the whole key to what we’re doing,” Calipari said. “Offensively, I thought we shared the ball, but we still held it a couple of times where we didn’t need to hold it. We need to have that ball bouncing around the court.”

In addition to getting better defensively, Diallo said another key component will be developing better team chemistry on and of the court while overseas.

“You just have to do it with guys and the team bonding off the court as much as on the court as well, and just try and build a frame that can’t be broken,’ Diallo said. “And then, go out in these games and just compete and go after everybody.”

The team played France in another exhibition late Thursday, followed by a training session on Friday. The team opens the preliminary round of the event against Iran at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by a contest against Angola at 12:15 p.m. Sunday in Cairo. The tournament begins Saturday and runs through July 9.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com.

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