Sidelines with John Clay

PJ Washington’s foot in a ‘hard cast’ not the news you want to hear

The nagging concerns over PJ Washington’s no-show Wednesday were confirmed Thursday morning when John Calipari tweeted that Kentucky’s sophomore forward will not play in the team’s NCAA opener.

Not only will Washington not play against Abilene Christian at the Veterans Memorial Arena (7:10 p.m. start on CBS), his sprained foot has been placed in a hard cast.

I’m no doctor, but just the phrase “hard cast” does not sound good.

As I wrote Wednesday, the Cats shouldn’t need Washington to get past the winners of the Southland Conference Tournament. Kentucky is a No. 2 seed. ACU is a No. 15 seed. Abilene Christian’s only game against an NCAA Tourney team this year resulted in an 82-48 loss to Texas Tech.

But there’s no doubt UK will need its leading scorer and rebounder if it hopes to make a long tournament run. Washington was a prime contender for SEC Player of the Year honors before losing out to Tennessee’s Grant Williams. He was recently tabbed a third-team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Calipari announced Wednesday that Washington had suffered a sprained foot in UK’s 82-78 loss to Tennessee in an SEC Tournament semifinal last Saturday in Nashville. The reason Washington did not join his team for Wednesday’s interviews or public practice was because he was being sent to a specialist. Cal said he expected Washington to play Thursday.

Alas, Calipari tweeted Thursday morning that while the specialist confirmed that Washington did not have a fracture in his foot — that was the good news — Washington is out for the Abilene Christian game and his foot is being placed in a hard cast for precautionary purposes. That was the same explanation given for Tuesday’s news that Washington was seen wearing a walking boot.

In the short term, Thursday’s news puts Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery back in the spotlight. The two were pressed into more action when Reid Travis missed five games after spraining his knee in mid-December. With Travis back now healthy, his injury may have been a blessing in disguise as a dress rehearsal for UK’s two reserve big men. They’ve been through this drill.

Still, we are in a different one-and-done territory. One loss and you’re done. When operating at his best, Washington can carry a team. The elongated stretch of games in which he scored 20-or-more points was the stretch late in the season when Calipari’s Cats found the best versions of themselves.

And anything with a foot injury around this time of year is a worry. Those injuries can linger. The hope is that UK is just choosing the prudent path for the tournament opener, and that Washington will be back Saturday should the Cats advance. Until then, as they say, the plot thickens.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader