All day, the Kentucky Wildcat faithful were likely glued to their twitter feeds awaiting news on the status of PJ Washington. Finally, roughly twenty minutes before the game started, it was made clear Washington was going to play. This turned out to be the difference in the game for the Wildcats.
In a defensive heavy weight throw down between two of the best defenses in the country, Washington made all the difference. Washington, and fellow teammate Tyler Herro put the Wildcats on their backs and beat the Houston Cougars, 62-58.
In a game where Washington was expected to only play 15-20 minutes, he played 26 minutes. Kentucky needed every one of them.
After missing the first two NCAA Tournament games with a sprained foot, Washington looked spry and dominant. Washington scored 16 points to go along with two rebounds and a key block that lead to the go-ahead shot late.
In a game where Keldon Johnson struggled, scoring only seven points on 25% shooting, Herro helped Washington pick up the scoring slack. Herro finished with a team high 19 points, including hitting the go ahead three with 25.8 seconds left.
The unsung hero of this game, for the Wildcats, has to be the often overlooked Kentucky defense. Coming into the game against Houston, Kentucky had the eighth best defense in the nation per KenPom rankings. The Cats held Houston to 39.6% shooting and 35% shooting from three. Most importantly, Kentucky prevented Corey Davis Jr. from ever getting into an offensive rhythm.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, lauded his teams will to win, crediting the teams defense and free throw shooting for sealing the game. “I love our will to win.” Calipari said. “How we played down the stretch… We make our free throws, we defend.”
Looking Ahead to the Elite Eight
The young Wildcats suddenly look like a dangerous team again, after a brief lull to end the season. This is obviously due to the leadership and play making that Washington provides. Kentucky’s Elite Eight opponent, the Auburn Tigers, are no stranger to Washington and the Wildcats. Auburn and Kentucky have played twice already this season, with Kentucky winning both matchups.
Auburn looks like a completely different team since the last meeting. The Tigers put on a three point shooting clinic against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. All season, Auburn has lived and died by the three, lead by senior Bryce Brown. Still, Auburn has an uphill battle against the Wildcats, who are familiar with the Tigers’ quick triggers.
Late in the game against North Carolina, Auburn lost sophomore standout Chuma Okeke to a leg injury. Still Kentucky cannot underestimate the dangerous Tigers.
This game’s spread opened with Kentucky as a 4.5 point favorite. Kentucky’s size, depth, and superior talent will be too much for Auburn to handle, and the clock will strike midnight on Cinderella. Kentucky 73 Auburn 65.