Kentucky’s success over the first weekend of this year’s 2019 NCAA Tournament came without their best player, star forward PJ Washington.
The sophomore suffered a mysterious foot injury during the Southeastern Conference tournament and was held out of the Big Dance’s first two games.
However, Washington made his triumphant return on Friday against the Houston Cougars and the Kentucky Wildcats played accordingly. After taking a comfortable 37-26 halftime lead, Kentucky faltered by letting Houston back into contention in the final minutes.
The two teams played an old school game of tug-of-war and Kentucky ultimately prevailed to seal their Elite Eight bid, 62-58.
Kentucky Dances On
Led by Tyler Herro’s 19 points, head coach John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats trumped the Houston Cougars to move on to the Elite Eight. This territory is more than familiar territory for this program, as Calipari will reach that specific round of the tournament for the seventh time in 10 seasons.
The Wildcats will face SEC foe Auburn following the Tigers’ upset of the North Carolina Tar Heels earlier Friday evening. Kentucky was 2-0 against Auburn this season and though it’s been proven difficult to defeat a team three consecutive times, the Wildcats should absolutely be favored come Sunday.
Washington Efficient in Return
Speculation of Washington’s return from his foot injury headlined the top stories regarding this weekend’s Sweet Sixteen. The sophomore forward was as efficient as possible in his return, making 6-8 shots to score 16 points.
Washington’s paint presence was essential in Kentucky’s performance, leading Kentucky on to the Elite Eight.
It should be noted, though, that Washington’s foot injury could very well swell following Friday night’s effort and is most certainly worth monitoring heading into Sunday’s affair with Auburn.
Wildcats Utilize Size Advantage
Kentucky’s one, lop-sided advantage going into their matchup with Houston was height and size in the painted area. Kentucky goes five-deep in the front court and utilized that depth against the Cougars.
Kentucky out-rebounded Houston 36-23 and outscored the Cougars 28-22 in the paint, which was the deciding factor in the Wildcats’ Sweet Sixteen victory.
Against an undersized Auburn team, especially with the expected absence of Chuma Okeke, Kentucky should have yet another situation of which they benefit with their size.
Defense Locks In, Again
Kentucky held Wofford star Fletcher Magee to just eight total points in the round of 32. On Friday, the Wildcats shifted their focus towards Cougars star Corey Davis Jr.
Calipari’s game plan was executed to perfection, limiting the opposing star to 5-16 shooting for only 14 total points. Kentucky’s defense against specific players has been rather exceptional as the season has progressed.
On Sunday, expect the Wildcats to lock in on Auburn Tiger guard Jared Harper. Tip-off has yet to be determined but should fall sometime on Sunday afternoon or later in the evening.