In the past few weeks, the Kentucky Wildcats have found a new gear and rocketed up the rankings because of it. This team is playing much better than it did early in the season and is poised to make a lot of noise in March. The biggest key to the Wildcats surge is the play of P.J. Washington. The sophomore forward is performing at an elite level and making a strong case for SEC Player of the Year. Kentucky has won 13 of their last 14 contests, and sit tied atop the conference with LSU and Tennessee. This team has been excellent on the defensive end during their hot streak, but it is Washington that carries this team offensively.
P.J. Washington is Making His Case for SEC Player of the Year
SEC Player of the Year
The sophomore from Dallas had just two 20 point games over the first 16 games this season. He has reached the 20 point plateau in eight of the last ten contests, with the Wildcats winning nine of those. With such a young group around him, Washington is a veteran on this Kentucky team, despite only being a sophomore. He is the one guy who has been through the grind of SEC play before. Coach John Calipari needed him to step up and lead this team so they could reach their full potential. He has risen to that challenge and has been one of the nation’s best players over the last month.
His 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a night in conference play both lead the team. Kentucky is right in the thick of the conference title race. Washington’s play has him in the middle of the SEC Player of the Year discussions. His consistency over the last month has been impressive. There isn’t a player in the country who means more to his team than Washington does to the Wildcats. He not only leads the team in scoring, but he brings an energy that is infectious among his teammates. His presence has helped his younger teammates buy into Coach Calipari’s plan and they are playing their best ball right now.
Putting In Work
P.J. Washington thought about leaving for the NBA after his freshman season. He decided to stay in Lexington to work on his game, and it has paid off. Last season the forward relied mainly on his athleticism to slash to the basket, getting most of his production in the paint. He still has excellent ability to attack from the elbow and get to the basket, but his game is now so much more complete. As a freshman, he scored 20 or more points just twice all season. Now as the focal point of the offense, he has averaged 21 points a night over the last ten ball games. That certainly looks like SEC Player of the Year numbers.
His overall skill set has improved as well, his rebound, block, and assist numbers have all gone up in his second season. His shooting percentages have risen as well, despite the fact that he takes more outside shots than as a freshman. Washington attempted just 21 threes last season, hitting five. He is 30-65 from deep this year and has also raised his free throw shooting to 68 percent. He put in the work to become a better shooter and has displayed confidence in his improvement that allows him to trust his outside shot. It’s paying off in a big way for the Wildcats. He has become so versatile on the offensive end. Washington can still attack from the elbow or in the post but has now become a legitimate weapon from the outside as well.
We are now at the business end of the season. The games will get tougher as the stakes get a little higher. Not only is P.J. Washington trying to solidify his case for SEC Player of the Year, but his Wildcats are trying to win the conference title. LSU’s Tremont Waters and Tennessee’s Grant Williams will both look to ruin Kentucky’s plans for a trophy-filled March. Each of these players has been among the league’s best all season as well. If Washington can carry the momentum from his last ten ball games into the final two weeks of the regular season, then he and the Wildcats have a chance to bring home some coveted hardware at season’s end.
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