Following Kentucky’s last matchup with Tennessee on February 16, freshman guard Tyler Herro made headlines by telling the world that the Vols were scared of star forward PJ Washington.
“I think they’re scared of him, honestly,” Herro said. “Scared of PJ. I think a lot of people are now that he’s scoring how he is and doing what he’s doing.”
And it’s not hard to see why he went all-in on his Wildcat teammate.
In their previous meeting at Rupp Arena, Washington led all scorers with 23 points on 9-12 shooting to go with five rebounds, one assist, two steals, and two blocks. He scored at will, dominated defensively, and easily proved to be the best player on the floor.
Instead of crumbling under the pressure like some players do against elite competition, Washington went right at Tennessee forward and reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams.
Williams finished with solid numbers of 16 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals, but if you watched the game, you’d know that the two players were polar opposites. Williams was never able to get comfortable on either end of the floor, finishing with just four shot attempts and three turnovers, also developing into a human turnstile on defense against both Washington and senior forward Reid Travis.
When you factor in Williams’ comments following Tennessee’s victory over Kentucky back in January of 2018…
“He shut me down in the first half,” Williams said at the time. “I’ll give it to him. He was in my head a little bit.”
… with Washington’s elite performance (and Williams’ response) this season, it’s hard not to make that assumption.
This past week, however, Tennessee wanted the world to know they heard Herro’s comments loud and clear.
“Hopefully we’re not scared of PJ (Washington) this time,” Tennessee star forward Admiral Schofield said sarcastically following his team’s victory over Ole Miss on Wednesday.
He then jumped into Williams’ interview completely and brought up the “scared” talk.
“Hey, you know Grant [Williams] is still scared of PJ Washington, right?” Schofield said.
“No, I’m not,” Williams responded. “[Washington]’s a great player. One of the best in the country. But I’m not [scared].”
Yesterday afternoon, Washington was asked to give a response to both Williams and Schofield. Instead of adding more fuel to the fire, the Kentucky star forward wanted to let everyone know he’s blocking out that noise completely.
“Nothing. It’s just words going both ways,” he said. “I don’t really care anything about it. At the end of the day, it’s what happens on the basketball court. You gotta come in and play.”
When asked about what worked last time against the then-No. 1 team in the nation, Washington credited his team’s game plan and aggressiveness going into the game. If his team can do that again this afternoon, he’s confident in Kentucky’s chances.
“It was our game plan to be the more aggressive team and we came out really aggressive at the beginning of the game and kept that pace the whole 40 minutes,” he said. “If we can do that in Knoxville, I feel like we have a great chance of winning the game as well.”
Specifically, Washington said his team wanted to make an impact on the defensive end of the floor and dominate on the glass. From there, he knew the offense would come, and the rest would be history.
“Our game plan was to go up and contest all their shots,” he said. “We felt like if we didn’t contest it, it was going down. We tried to make sure we contested every shot and tried to get the rebound and not let them get second-chance points.”
No matter what’s going on with the outside noise and the clutter going around coming into today’s matchup, Washington feels that’s all going to go away when the ball is tipped at 2:00 p.m.
He’s just ready to take on a a great program, team, and coach in an impressive environment. Nothing more, nothing less.
“They’re a great program, great team, great coach. They’re always going to fight, so I just love games when it’s physical like that. Going into a competitive environment and just trying to get a win, that’s the best the thing when you can beat a team on the road. That’s obviously our plan. We’re going to try to go up there and execute that.”