By LARRY VAUGHT
PJ Washington helped Kentucky dominate then No. 1 Tennessee 85-69 two weeks ago in Lexington when he went 9-for-12 from the field and scored 23 points by seemingly scoring at will inside.
After Tennessee beat Ole Miss on Wednesday, Tennessee senior Admiral Schofield said he hoped “we’re not scared of PJ this time” when the Vols host UK today.
Tennessee junior Grant Williams even added that he hoped “we’re not scare of PJ like the rest of the SEC is” according to Schofield.
The “scared” talk originated when UK freshman Tyler Herro said after the UK win that he felt the Vols were afraid of Washington.
The UK sophomore said it’s just a lot of meaningless talk.
“It’s just words going both ways. 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,” Washington said.
Washington did that and more against the Vols the first time when he had his way inside no matter who was guarding him.
“He pretty much got to do whatever he wanted to do with it,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We are going to have to do a much better job there. I do think they were more physical (the first game). No question about that. I think our guys know that. We just have to play harder than we played. I think everyone knows that.”
Williams made it clear he respects Washington — the two are by far the leading contenders for SEC Player of the Year honors.
“You look at him, he goes to that right hook and it’s lethal. It’s hard to stop. You have to respect a talented guy like that. He is definitely a candidate and he should be a candidate for SEC player of the year and national player of the year. I respect him,” Williams said.
Washington said Friday he would be “surprised” if he wasn’t matched against Williams with UK senior Reid Travis likely not to play due to a sprained knee that forced him to miss the last two games.
“On the defensive end, you just gotta be physical (with Williams), not really try to let him catch the ball,” Washington said. “And when he does catch the ball, you gotta play him early and keep your hand up. When he jumps to shoot, you gotta jump and contest as well.”
What about on offense?
“Just be physical and try to get position. Once you get position, just try to be calm and go into your move,” Washington said.
During UK’s SEC Tournament title game win over Tennessee last season, Washington also played well and he was doing the same in the loss at Tennessee last year before leg cramps stopped him.
“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,” Washington said. “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.”