JACKSONVILLE (KT) — PJ Washington didn’t practice with the No. 2 seed Kentucky Wednesday and his status is uncertain going into the team’s NCAA Tournament opener against Abilene Christian.
Kentucky coach John Calipari confirmed that Washington, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, sprained his foot in the Wildcats’ 82-78 loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference semifinals in Nashville last weekend. Calipari said x-rays were negative but wanted to get an expert opinion on Washington’s foot before making a final determination whether or not he will play. However, Calipari is confident Washington will be on the court.
“We had him in the boot for a while. X-rays, everything was negative, MRIs, but we sent him to a specialist …. again a precaution,” the Kentucky coach said. “He wants to play. Well, if you know me, I'm like, wait a minute, let's go get one more level of this. He's not here with us right now. He'll probably be here in an hour or so, but we sent him to the specialist to make sure that he can't harm himself. But we expect him to play.”
Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding was chimed on Washington’s status prior to his team’s open practice Wednesday here in Jacksonville.
“If he shows up to play in a walking boot and coach (John) Calipari lets him play in a walking boot, we might have a chance,” he said. “If he takes the walking boot off, we've got a problem. He's really good. He's talented. He's one of eight problems we have on their roster. They're very, very talented.”
Golding added he’s not sure how to prepare for the Wildcats depending on Washington’s status.
“I honestly — I don't know what we're going to do,” he said. “We're still trying to figure that out. He's an incredible talent. If he's making shots and he's scoring the ball on the block, then he's really tough to defend. So we've got to try to force him away from the rim as much as we can, but that's easier said than done. You've got four other pros on the floor with him, too.
“We've got our hands full on that and still trying to figure that out. If you've got any ideas, I'd love for you to share them with me, man. You've probably seen them a little more than I have.”
Kentucky has faced the adversity of not having one of its experienced leaders this season. Senior Reid Travis sprained his knee in a 66-58 loss to Missouri in Feb. 16 and missed the next five games. The Wildcats compiled a 4-1 mark in his absence and the players are confident they will respond in a positive fashion if Washington isn’t able to play against the opposing Wildcats.
Kentucky freshman Ashton Hagans expects Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery to pick up the slack in the post to help take the pressure off Washington, even if he’s able to play.
“That’s what we need for our team to be at our best,” Hagans said.
Montgomery, who played his prep basketball at Fort Pierce, is ready for the opportunity to contribute in the post under the circumstances.
“I think I will be able to step up if I’m called on,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for this the entire season and I want to go out there and do my best. I’m excited to go out there and compete.”
Although Abilene Christian is a newcomer to the Big Dance, the Wildcats don’t plan to take any chances in the tourney opener.
“You can’t take nobody for granted,” Hagans said. “You just have to go out there and compete. We have to finish the games and start as fast as we can. We’re going to give us their best shot. It’s March Madness and nobody really wants to go home.”
Calipari agreed with his freshman point guard.
“I’ve been in this thing a bunch, and I tell you, it doesn't matter because everybody is zero and zero right now,” he said. “You don't look beyond anything else. All we're worried about is Abilene Christian because they're good enough to beat us.”
Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Abeline Christian, 7:10 p.m. Thursday. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.