The most anticipated week of the year for every Kentucky Basketball fan is the beginning of the NCAA Tournament. After losing the in the SEC Tournament semi-finals, the BBN was ready for the “real” tournament and the dream of banner #9 was once again in sight. Cal seemed relaxed and swaggy and the players were laser-focused after losing to the Volunteers Saturday. Yes, it was time for the Big Blue Faithful to enjoy their annual Spring Fling and follow the Cats on the Road to the Final Four.
But nothing ever comes easy in tourney time, and such was the case again this week. The first mumblings began on Monday as rumors of a PJ Washington injury began to circulate. By Tuesday, it was confirmed that PJ was wearing a walking boot for a foot sprain as a “precaution.” Then Thursday morning, full-blown panic set in. Washington was reported to be in a hard cast. Ruled out for the opening game against Abilene Christian University, PJ’s condition was believed to be far more serious than originally reported in spite of Coach Cal’s tweet to the contrary.
The specialists confirmed our original diagnosis that @PJWashington has a sprained foot and there is no fracture. Once we determined that PJ was not going to play today, they put him in a hard cast for precautionary reasons. He is out for today’s game.
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 21, 2019
Was told once it became clear PJ Washington was going to sit out tonight, training staff told Calipari they could hard cast him to further protect/immobilize the foot. "Do it," Cal said. And that doesn't mean it can't/won't be cut off sooner than later to let him play. https://t.co/RfVwa5k8af
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) March 21, 2019
But the whole point of me driving to Jacksonville was to cover the Wildcats first weekend in the NCAA Tournament, which brings us to Thursday night. Even without PJ Washington, the first half was almost too easy for Calipari’s Cats. While Abilene managed but 13 points in total for the opening period, two Wildcats (Travis and Herro) had 12 points. Each. Adding to the total was Keldon Johnson’s 10 and Kentucky held an exceptionally comfortable 39-13 lead at the half. The only thing that didn’t go well was seeing the return of super-fast fouls by Nick Richards (3 fouls in 5:18 played).
ACU opened the second half with more confidence and more energy. And had they been playing any team other than Kentucky, it would have been so easy to cheer for this team. Their story of only being in Division I for 2 seasons is one made for a Cinderella ending. But the glass slipper was not theirs for the taking. Despite scoring 31 more points than they scored in the first half, it wasn’t nearly enough to even give the Cats a hint of a scare. Well, that was until the final 2 minutes when Hayden Farquhar undercut Nick Richards causing him to take a very hard fall on the court. It was a very scary moment and the BBN held their collective breaths waiting to see how badly Nick was hurt. The foul was then upgraded to a flagrant 1, Coach Cal came out on the court to check on Nick, asked him to move his arm around a little (Nick did), and Cal said, “Ok, you’re alright. Rub some dirt on it.” So Richards got up, shot the free throws, and the game ended with no more incidents.
Keldon Johnson led all scorers with 25 points (6 rebounds) while Reid Travis in his first-ever NCAA Tournament game added 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 assist. Tyler Herro was the 3rd Cat in double-figures with 14 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
Calipari was asked about PJ again and the coach said:
“We had two options: boot or cast. We were told the cast would speed up healing so we said put the cast on. Whether they’ll take it off tomorrow to check it, I don’t know. If they don’t, he wont play Saturday and then they’ll probably take it off Tuesday and see how he is.”
At the moment, the Cats’ next opponent has yet to be determined. It could be the trendy pick (Wofford) or an opportunity to get revenge on an earlier-season loss (Seton Hall).
Whoever Kentucky faces, I feel certain the BBN is really hoping that cast gets taken off of PJ’s foot tomorrow and that sufficient healing has taken place to get him back in the lineup. Otherwise, Saturday’s game could be a major stress-inducer!
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