PJ Washington wants to avoid early foul trouble
As part of Kentucky’s preparation for Saturday’s Senior Day game against Florida, associate coach Kenny Payne re-watched the teams’ first game. This inspired a conversation with UK’s leading light, forward PJ Washington.
“My man, you’re 10 times better than you played,” Payne said he told Washington.
To which, Washington protested, albeit with diplomatic flair.
“I played bad,” he told Payne. “But I still had a double-double.”
Washington scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in that Feb. 2 game in Gainesville.
“That’s just not good enough . . . ,” Payne told Washington. “Your standard of excellence is beyond what we all think it is for this team to be great.
“And this team has a chance to be great,” Payne added at Friday’s interview session. “But it starts with his veteran leadership and ability to go out and dominate. Not just play better (than the opponent). But dominate his position.”
Of course, Payne prodding Washington for more-more-more is more-more-more of the same. UK Coach John Calipari memorably set a stratospheric target for Washington to seek by saying earlier this season that the forward should score 35 points and grab 20 rebounds on a regular basis.
By this late stage of the season, the call for more from Washington must be on speed dial.
Payne zeroed in on rebounding as a component of Washington’s game that can improve. Washington scored 13 points in each of UK’s last two games, the second time helping the Cats win at Ole Miss. But he had one rebound in 26 minutes at Oxford. That followed three rebounds in 30 minutes at Tennessee three days earlier.
“I don’t want 15 and two or three or five,” Payne said of Washington’s points and rebounds. “Have 20 and 12 (or) 20 and 15. Dominate the game.”
The knee injury that has sidelined Reid Travis for four games and counting further puts the onus on Washington. Payne described Travis as “day to day.” Travis, who hasn’t played nor practiced since spraining his right knee at Missouri on Feb. 19, was going to do “a little bit of stuff” at Friday’s practice, Payne said.
More than once, Calipari has said that Travis’ absence adds physical play to what Kentucky wants from Washington.
“It’s been tough,” Washington said of Travis being sidelined. EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have contributed more but . . .
“Definitely some goods and bads,” Washington said of Travis’ absence, “but we’re a good team without him, and we’re a great team with him.”
Washington’s impact was on display in Kentucky’s 80-76 victory at Ole Miss on Tuesday. Limited by Washington’s first-half foul trouble for a second straight game, UK trailed at halftime.
“We addressed that,” Payne said of the foul trouble. Then after a pregnant pause, he added, “not in a nice way.”
Payne suggested that the recent fouls resulted in the referees catching Washington retaliating to physical play by an opponent. “You’ve got to be smarter than that,” Payne said. “Your impact on this team is vital. We can’t afford for you not to be in the game. We just can’t.”
At halftime, Calipari challenged Washington by saying UK would ride him in the second half.
Washington responded. “Just being aggressive and make plays,” he said. “I knew I could get to my right hand and get to my left hand pretty easily. So I just try to do that. If they double, try to find the open man and get a great shot for the team. Pretty much making plays, and I’m not scared or anything to do that.”
Although he won’t jump through a hoop and take a bow at center court during UK’s Senior Day ceremony, Washington was asked more than once if Saturday will mark his final game for Kentucky. After his freshman season, he entered his name in last year’s NBA Draft. It’s generally assumed he’ll do the same this spring.
“I honestly haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I’m just going to go in there (Saturday) and play my heart out. It’s just going to be a special moment for Jonny (David) and Reid.”
This season has seen Washington score more, rebound more and shoot better (he’s already made six times as many three-point shots as he did last season). His next assist will enable him to surpass last season’s total.
Recalling Washington’s 8-for-20 free-throw shooting against Kansas State last spring, Payne said, “From that player to this player we have today, just think of the growth, the maturity, the change of his body, the three-point shooting.
“From A to Z, he’s had a major impact on this program and on this team. And he’s not done yet.”
Florida at No. 6 Kentucky
When: 2 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Florida 17-13 (9-8 SEC), Kentucky 25-5 (14-3)
Series: Kentucky leads 101-40
Last meeting: Kentucky won 65-54 on Feb. 2, 2019, at Gainesville, Fla.