Keldon Johnson says UK would adjust without Washington
PJ Washington will not play in Kentucky’s game against Abilene Christian on Thursday night, John Calipari tweeted. The player will be wearing a hard cast on his injured left foot, which called into question when or if he would play in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Washington is Kentucky’s leading scorer (14.8 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg) and go-to guy when adversity strikes.
“He’s a pivotal part of our team,” teammate Reid Travis said Wednesday. “Obviously, we’re a better team with him on the floor.”
Washington injured his left foot against Tennessee in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals. A specialist confirmed earlier X-ray and MRI examinations that showed there was no fracture in the foot, Calipari tweeted. The injury is a sprain.
Although UK players said Wednesday that they did not know the extent of the injury, Nick Richards said preparations had been made to carry on without Washington.
“It means we lost one of our best players,” Richards said of a hypothetical loss of Washington. “That’s if he can’t go. . . . But, you know, Coach has been preparing us for a situation like this the whole, entire year. So we will be prepared for it if he can’t go.”
EJ Montgomery, who along with Richards had filled in while Travis was sidelined with a sprained right knee, echoed that sentiment.
“I think I will be able to step up if I’m called on,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve been preparing for this the entire season, and I want to go out there and do my best. Excited to go out there and compete.”
This season has seen Washington become exhibit A in an argument that a player can benefit from returning to college for another season after entering his name in the NBA Draft. He has scored 10 or more points in 17 of UK’s last 18 games, and posted eight double-doubles.
Earlier this month, he was named to the All-SEC first team and a Third Team All-American by The Sporting News. He is a finalist for the Karl Malone Award, which goes to the nation’s best power forward, and the Wooden All-American Team.
An X-ray and MRI examination showed no serious injury, the UK coach said.
“He wants to play,” Calipari said Wednesday. “Well, if you know me, I’m, like, wait a minute. Let’s go get one more level (of medical opinion).”
When contacted Tuesday, SEC Network analyst Jimmy Dykes said Washington was a vital piece of Kentucky’s team.
“I think they can still make it out of the first weekend without a healthy PJ,” Dykes said before adding, “It’s going to be hard to make it out of the second weekend.”
Dykes likened the loss of Washington to how Duke would be hampered if Zion Williamson was sidelined. The same applied to Tennessee’s Grant Williams or Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, the SEC Network analyst said.
“You take the best player off any of those teams, that’s a game changer,” Dykes said.
To make his point, the SEC Network analyst noted what happened to Virginia in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“They didn’t have De’Andre Hunter,” Dykes said, “and they got beat in a 1-16 matchup. There you go.”
No. 2 seed Kentucky vs. No. 15 seed Abilene Christian
What: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional round-of-64 game
When: 7:10 p.m.
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
Records: Kentucky 27-6, Abilene Christian 27-6
Series: First meeting
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1