PJ Washington’s three three-pointers matched the number he’d made since Dec. 8. He also imposed his will with authoritative drives, dunks and post-ups.
But that wasn’t the most difficult daily-double Washington had in Kentucky’s 76-55 victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday. Somehow, he managed to be lauded for an all-star performance while also getting benched.
“Obviously, PJ Washington had a great game …,” Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said of the UK forward’s 21 points, six rebounds and four blocks. “Really looked like an All-SEC player to me, and I think he’s a heck of a player.”
UK Coach John Calipari acknowledged how Washington contributed to the victory.
“Your motor is running, and you’re just blasting a guy … ,” he said of the good Washington. “He has that game. But he also has that other game, and we’ve just got to tell him, it’s not acceptable. … You just go to EJ (Montgomery).”
Calipari benched Washington for about six minutes of the second half.
“Sometimes I get lackadaisical and won’t get a rebound or stuff like that,” Washington said. “He’ll take me out.”
A benching serves as motivation.
“Yeah,” Washington said, “because I kind of get mad a little bit. I always want to get in the game.”
Critics say Washington can “disappear” in games. Washington did not argue the point. Nor could he explain why this happens.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t slow down,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t get the rebound. I just have some mental lapses. But I’m always into the game.”
Washington wasn’t the only Kentucky “big” to get a mixed review from Calipari.
The UK coach lauded Reid Travis’ 12 rebounds, which equaled a season high. “But still missing some baskets you’ve got to make,” Calipari said. Travis made one of six shots.
Nick Richards’ eight points were the most he has scored since Nov. 21. He also grabbed six rebounds in 10 minutes.
Montgomery contributed five points, his first three-pointer of the season, two rebounds, a block and a steal in 13 minutes.
“I keep telling him, he’s going to break through,” Calipari said. “And everybody is going to say, ‘Oh, my gosh. Who is this guy?’”
According to notes UK distributed to the media, Ashton Hagans went into the game ranked “No. 1 nationally in steals per game among all freshmen who are averaging 25 minutes or less.”
According to the more altruistic list compiled by the NCAA, Hagans ranked 27th nationally in steals with an average of 2.29 per game. Hagans had averaged 24.7 minutes per game.
Another freshman, Sincere Carry of Duquesne, ranked ranked fifth with an average of 2.78 steals per game. However, he also averaged 32.2 minutes a game.
LSU sophomore Tremont Waters led the SEC — and ranked fourth nationally — with an average of 2.94 steals.
Murray State could claim the leader in steals among players from Kentucky schools. Senior guard Shaq Buchanan averaged 2.35 steals.
Hagans had two steals Tuesday, which snapped his streak of having three or more at seven games.
“Really no reaction,” he said. “I haven’t been paying attention to it, really. I just try to keep playing my game.”
Lamar Peters, who had started every game for Mississippi State this season, did not start Tuesday night.
Peters was the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer (13.3 points per game) and leader in assists (99 total).
In SEC games, Peters ranked seventh in assists and three-point shooting percentage.
“That was a total mistake,” Coach Ben Howland said of Peters not starting. “There was no decision there. I had no idea. According to what the official said, my assistant marked the wrong person. I couldn’t believe it.”
Going into this week’s play, the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranked Kentucky No. 8 and Mississippi State No. 27.
The victory improved UK’s record against top-50 teams to 4-2 (the losses to No. 2 Duke and No. 50 Alabama). UK had a 3-1 record against top-25 teams with victories over No. 12 North Carolina, No. 16 Louisville and No. 23 Auburn.