PJ Washington returns to spark Kentucky to Sweet 16 thriller over Houston

PJ Washington didn’t start against Houston on Friday.

But he was healthy. And he was clutch for Kentucky in a 62-58 win over Houston to advance to the Midwest regional final.

Washington returned to the lineup after a two-game absence with a sprained foot. The Kentucky star took a role off the bench as head coach John Calipari looked to ease him back into action.

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Wildcats need everything they got from Washington

Washington entered the game at the 15:41 mark of the first half, an unusual spot for the Wildcats’ leading scorer and rebounder.

But there were concerns coming into the game that he wouldn’t even be able to play. So any Washington was better than no Washington.

PJ Washington came off the Kentucky bench for a big game against Houston. (Getty)
PJ Washington came off the Kentucky bench for a big game against Houston. (Getty)

Washington looked healthy

He looked healthy from the start, showing no signs of lingering injury from the foot sprain. He hit his first three buckets from the field, and the Wildcats entered halftime with a 37-26 lead, seemingly in full control.

But Houston had other ideas, mounting a second-half rally behind hot shooting from Armoni Brooks that led to the Cougars taking a 54-51 lead with 3:12 remaining.

Big plays from PJ

But Washington came up with two huge plays in the game’s final minute as the Wildcats went on a game-winning rally.

His jumper with 56 seconds remaining pulled Kentucky back within 58-57. Then his block on the other end of Corey Davis set Tyler Herro up for the go-ahead 3-pointer to take a 60-58 lead Kentucky would not relinquish.

Washington finished the night with 16 points, two rebounds and that massive block while hitting 6-of-8 field goals in a limited role.

Herro led the way for Kentucky with 19 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists and found the ideal moment to connect on his only 3-pointer in three attempts.

Tough loss for Cougars

For Houston, it’s a difficult loss after having the regional final in its sights with the lead in the final 30 seconds of the game.

Brooks was the spark, logging 20 points that included 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point distance. Davis chipped in 14 while Galen Robinson added 10 points and six assists.

SEC clash for trip to Final Four

The win sets up an all-SEC affair in the regional final with Auburn awaiting Kentucky with a trip to the Final Four at stake.

Kentucky swept the season series with an 82-80 win on the road and a dominant 80-53 victory in Lexington in February.

The Tigers are red hot, having won 11 straight in a run that includes an SEC tournament title and wins over Kansas and North Carolina.

But the Tigers lost their best player against the Tar Heels when Chuma Okeke suffered what looked like a serious knee injury in the second half of Friday’s dominant win.

His absence would provide a difficult path to victory for the Tigers.

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