PJ Washington’s decision to return to UK for a sophomore season was a big one for this year’s Wildcat roster. Adding experience to the talented, incoming freshman class was considered the “X-factor” for creating a special season for Kentucky basketball. But up until recently, it hadn’t really panned out – UK was still, typically, being led by the freshmen.
Not recently. PJ Washington has stepped up big time in the last three games, scoring at least 20 points in each matchup. His shooting has improved from last season – as a freshman, Washington averaged 10.8 points per game; as a sophomore, he’s up to 13.4 ppg. His rebounding numbers are similar: he’s gone from averaging 5.7 to 8.3 boards per game. His free throw percentage has increased from approximately 60 percent to just under 70 percent, and he’s seeing about one extra minute of playing time per game.
But the biggest difference is his three-point shooting. Washington shot 23.8 percent from behind-the-line as a freshman. This season, he’s up to 41.5 percent. Last season, he took just 21 three-point shots. This year, he’s gone 17-41. In other words, Washington is just four baskets shy of making as many three-pointers this season as he attempted last year. After participating in last year’s NBA Combine, Washington knew he had to work on his long-range shooting if he wanted to make himself into a first-round draft pick.
“I’ve been in the gym working on it,” Washington said of his 3-point shooting after the Vanderbilt game. “I’ve been working on it a lot this year, and I’ll continue to work on it.”
Against the Commodores, Washington was 3-for-3 from behind-the-arc. But he still has some work to do – he was 0-for-4 against Kansas just days earlier. But when his shots aren’t falling, he says he just has to step up and contribute in different ways.
“I just feel like I can affect the game in so many different ways,” Washington said. “So I’m just trying to come out and be aggressive on defense, get steals, get blocks, get assists and get rebounds. Just trying to do a little bit of everything.”
He did that Tuesday night. Alongside his 26 points, he added 12 rebounds, two assists, three steals and just two turnovers. Calipari said it was the performance he had been waiting to see for one and a half seasons.
But for PJ Washington, it was just a preview of what he’s wanted to see out of himself throughout his time at UK, which is why he knows he made the right choice when he decided to return.
“I felt it was great to come back to work on my game and show more of what I can do,” Washington said. “I feel like I’ve done a great job of that so far and I’m just trying to continue to do that.”
If the Cats want to make a run in March, they’ll need him to do just that.