One player vs. player rivalry that has emerged over the past two seasons of basketball has been PJ Washington and Grant Williams. It’s poured more fuel on the fire of the Tennessee-Kentucky rivalry, which has now been split at 2-2 over the last four meetings.
The last meeting was easily the ugliest of the four, with Kentucky dominating Tennessee on every level. One big reason why was the play of Washington, who the Vols frankly had no answer for on either end. The 6-8 sophomore put up 23 points on 9-12 shooting, eating Tennessee up down low. Washington added two blocks on the night, serving as the primary defender for the Wildcats as they locked down the paint.
It wasn’t a particularly bad night for Grant Williams, who kept Tennessee alive with a couple of three pointers. But he never really got established in the paint like he’s used to doing. The Vols’ offense at no point in time during that game ran through Williams, which is a rare thing to see.
It was a mirror image of Grant’s game from last year at Rupp Arena — minus the two threes. Kentucky didn’t let Williams operate last year, only allowing him to get off three field goal attempts. Williams only took four this time around. Williams was able to get going in Knoxville against Kentucky last year, especially after Washington exited the game due to injury.
I’m not sure I’d say any code has been cracked by Kentucky on how to stop Grant, but the Wildcats have the elite level athletes — including Washington — to really make like tough on Williams in the paint.
Kentucky guard Tyler Herro believes the Vols, along with a lot of people, are scared of Washington.
Grant Williams gave away a very valuable thing in Knoxville last year. He admitted PJ Washington was in his head. PJ grinned when I asked about that last night. He climbed back in there again.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) February 17, 2019
“I think they’re scared. Scared of PJ.”https://t.co/Zv3BbkjPBs pic.twitter.com/AekxoD4I3V
I’d say that’s going to make the bulletin board in the Tennessee locker room.
Last year, Williams admitted that Washington was “in his head a little bit” following Tennessee’s win over the Wildcats in Knoxville. Grant probably wouldn’t admit that again if he had it to do over, but he seemed to be in a similar situation on Saturday night at Rupp Arena.
The rematch next week will be fascinating to see how Rick Barnes and the Tennessee staff adjusts to Kentucky’s defense. The good news is Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and Admiral Schofield probably won’t shoot a combined 1-17 from deep this time around. Those three knocking down some shots could help free up Grant in the paint.
I’m not sure about y’all, but I can’t wait to see how the Volunteers respond this week against Vanderbilt and LSU. Maybe that kick in the teeth was what they needed to get their edge back.