Kentucky’s Washington plays through pain in loss to Auburn
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — PJ Washington got more out of himself and his sore left foot than anyone would have expected. It just wasn’t enough to get Kentucky to the Final Four.
The Wildcats’ star forward played one of his best offensive games of the season Sunday with 28 points in a 77-71 overtime loss to Auburn in the NCAA Midwest Region final. If it was his last game for the Wildcats, he’ll have no regrets.
“I just tried to go out there and give everything I have,” he said. “Unfortunately, we came up short. I gave everything, and I feel like the team did, too.”
Projected to be a first-round pick in the NBA draft if he chooses to declare, Washington became one of the big story lines of the tournament — the condition of his sprained left foot became the No. 1 concern of Big Blue Nation last week.
The sophomore forward had been out since March 16, when he was injured against Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and the Wildcats won without him in the first two rounds of the NCAAs. He was still in a cast until last Tuesday, and coach John Calipari said Thursday he would be surprised if Washington were anywhere close to full speed in Kansas City.
He also endured pot shots on social media, with some people wondering how much he really wanted to play this week with an NBA future to protect.
His response: 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 26 minutes the 62-58 regional semifinal win over Houston, and 10-of-18 shooting in 37 minutes Sunday while scoring his most points since pouring in a career-high 29 against Seton Hall in December.
His production earned him a spot on the regional all-tournament team, which, of course, was no consolation to him as he sat at his locker with his head hanging.
“It feels like all the hard work we put in just went down the drain,” he said. “Everybody worked hard for us to be here, and to just lose.”
The Wildcats led by 11 points midway through the first half before Auburn, which struggled with its 3-point shooting early, turned to Jared Harper and his drives to the basket and Bryce Brown’s penetration and jumpers in the lane. The two combined for 50 points.
“We couldn’t stop them getting to the rack,” Washington said. “They got and-1s, they got layups, they made shots.”
Washington had 13 rebounds to go with his 28 points for his ninth double-double of the season, but he committed five of the Wildcats’ 14 turnovers and was just 6 for 11 at the free-throw line.
Like Friday, there was extreme pain in his left foot.
“You have to play through stuff like that,” he said.
Forward EJ Montgomery said Washington was incredible considering his status was up in the air as late as Friday afternoon.
“We needed him for the stretch, and he came out and did what he had to do,” Montgomery said. “We didn’t think he was going to play that much. That tells you a lot about who he is.”
Washington said he has no timetable for deciding whether to enter the draft. He said he has cherished the experience at Kentucky, having grown up in Dallas admiring the Wildcats from affair.
“I used to watch all their games, so just to be able to wear this uniform I feel truly blessed. I want to thank Coach for giving me the opportunity to be here and try to win games.”