On Saturday afternoon, Kentucky lost to Alabama. The good news was that this wasn’t one of those “the sky is falling, Kentucky is screwed beyond belief, just go ahead and cancel the rest of the season” kind of losses. Instead, it was more one of those “Kentucky is everyone’s Super Bowl, if they don’t come to play every single night on the road, they can get beat,” games instead.
No, the Alabama loss isn’t about doom-and-gloom, but it did once again spotlight some weaknesses for the Wildcats that seem to show up every now and again. For one, Reid Travis can at times struggle against other team’s length down low, and it happened again this weekend. Kentucky’s three-point shots don’t always fall, and they certainly didn’t Saturday in Tuscaloosa (the Wildcats finished 5 for 18 from beyond the arc). And most nights, you Kentucky really just has no idea what you’re going to get from P.J. Washington.
More than anything, that last one would be my biggest concern if I were a Kentucky fan. And it’s something that John Calipari absolutely has to get figured out: What’s up with P.J. Washington? And why does no one– including seemingly P.J. Washington himself – have no idea what he will bring to the court on any given night?
It is the single most important question surrounding Kentucky in my opinion. And if the Wildcats want to reach their potential as a national championship caliber team (a run I still believe they’re capable of making), they will need to figure out an answer to the question.
Now I already know what some of you are thinking: “Aaron, this feels like the wrong time to bring up P.J. Washington since, you know, he was arguably Kentucky’s best player on Saturday against Alabama. He finished with a team-high 15 points and chipped in seven boards as well.”
Fair, but to anyone who watched the game, you know that of those 15 points, nine came late in the final seven minutes right? And they came at a time when Kentucky was down double-digits and Alabama was (for lack of a better term) in a prevent defense. It also highlights exactly what I just said above: You really never know what you’re going to get from P.J. Washington this season. A near 30-point performance? Eight points and no energy at all? Somewhere in between? No one knows. Including, again, Washington.
The only consistency is inconsistency, and a sad, mopey face doing it. And the numbers back me up, as here are Washington’s stat lines in the last four games:
Alabama: 15 points, seven rebounds, 0 blocks
Louisville: 5 points, eight rebounds, four blocks
North Carolina: 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assistants
Utah: 9 points, four rebounds
Seton Hall: 29 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four blocks
Mercy. This dude is more inconsistent than summer weather in Florida.
The sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington has proven that he can be consistent, and that he can play with a chip on his shoulder. He did it last year, when – to his credit – he brought it every single, darn night. He wasn’t always great, but did always hustle, play hard, crash the boards and do all the little things to win.
This year he’s been the exact opposite: He’s shown a much better all-around game, but again has no real consistency. Some nights he plays with the fire in his belly he had last year – though if we’re being honest, I really can’t think of too many instances where that has been the case. Instead, he has spent most of this season moping around like his puppy just got run over by a car. And if this really is about impressing NBA scouts, well, here is a quick warning to Washington: NBA scouts watch everything you do. Believe me, I talk to them all the time. And while part of “impressing the NBA folks” is about showing off a more complete game, stepping out and hitting three’s, all that stuff, you know what else it is about? Effort and attitude. Yes, the NBA cares about stuff like that as well.
And right now the right attitude isn’t there and neither is the effort – at least most of the time. What’s especially maddening is that it can be, when Washington decides he wants to show it off. Anyone else besides me remember that Seton Hall game, when Washington caught the ball on the block time and time again, and the Pirates couldn’t do anything? How they had no answer for him? I watch a TON of college basketball and can tell you that it was one of the best performances I’ve seen by anyone, all season.
I’d also add that even during that game though, the announcers Gus Johnson and Jim Jackson even mentioned that Washington himself admitted that he can be difficult to motivate at times. That his dad knew how to push his buttons when he coached him in high school, but that it was different in college.
Well P.J. here is a quick heads up: Want to get angry? Want to get fired up? Well, you’re going to be plenty fired up when your NBA Draft stock falls because you’re not showing enough consistency.
Thankfully for Washington it hasn’t happened yet, and I will give him credit for one thing: Late in the Kentucky-Bama game, when the Wildcats were making their run and Washington was getting his buckets, he seemed to take on a more active, leadership role. As Kentucky battled back into the game, Washington was barking out instructions, telling guys where to go… all the things a leader needs to do.
Hopefully it was a positive sign of what’s ahead for Washington.
For Kentucky to reach its potential, they’ll need that attitude from Washington every night.