PJ Washington

PJ Washington (center) talked to Kentucky coach John Calipari while stretching before practice Thursday. WDRB Photo/Rick Bozich

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDRB) — Everybody had a question for PJ Washington, but everybody had questions that Washington was unable to answer.

Besides, with Washington, the question isn’t this:

Will you be able to ignore the pain in your sprained left foot and play in Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinal game against Houston onFriday night?

The question is this: Will you be able to play effectively?

Better than Keith Bogans played on a bad ankle in 2003 when the Wildcats were upset by Marquette?

Better than Scott May played with a broken left arm in 1975 when unbeaten Indiana was toppled by Kentucky?

Remember that about injuries: Overcoming pain is not the issue. Playing with an injury is not the question.

Playing effectively is the question that Washington, his teammates and UK head coach John Calipari must answer.

“If anybody in this tournament right now takes their best player off the court, they’re not going to be as good,” Calipari said. “I can spin it. You can spin it.

“You can say, well, take your best player off the court and let’s play basketball. Like, we’re not as good without him. There’s no question.”

Washington practiced Thursday, but neither John Wooden nor Red Auerbach could create a practice that would determine how effectively somebody will be able to play on a bad foot 28 hours later.

Stay in front of your man on the defensive end of the court? Get up at the rim quickly to finish or block shots? Race back on defense to stop Houston’s relentless transition game?

Washington does not know. Calipari does not know. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson does not know.

Nobody will know until this game tips around 10 p.m. (EDT) at the Sprint Center in this downtown arena.

Washington was asked 101 ways about his availability. Washington said what he needed to say:

He won’t know until Friday.

“The biggest thing is my pain tolerance,” he said.

On a 1-to-10 scale, what is his pain tolerance?

“I don’t know, because I haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “I need to go out there and see what it is.”

So what percentage are you to play?

Washington laughed. He shook his head. The questions seemed more painful than his foot.

“I don’t know,” he said. ”I haven’t done anything yet. I’ve just got to go out there and see where I’m at.”

How will his injury, which one observer described as similar to turf toe, respond to a day of extended exercise and stress? How will easily will Washington be able to be his tender foot comfortable and functioning Friday night?

How much pain can he tolerate?

“I don’t know yet,” Washington said. “I don’t know … I haven’t been practicing.

“I’ve been —- I haven’t put any pressure on it yet. I’ll go out there and see what I can do.”

There were several encouraging signs Thursday. Kentucky made Washington available to the media. That was not true last week in Jacksonville, Fla, when the Wildcats defeated Abilene Christian and Wofford without him in the first two rounds of the tournament.

The first 15 minutes of Kentucky’s practice were open. Washington stretched. He ran, maybe half-speed, from sideline to sideline. He shot. He stretched a second time.

He did not grimace. He laughed with Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.

Looked normal running. Looked normal laughing, too.

But Washington was not trying to twist his body around a screen. He was not colliding with a Houston player trying to drive him off the block. He was not trying to power over a taller defender for a rebound.

Nobody stepped on his foot.

Will Washington attempt to play?

I believe he will. A source that I trust said that he believes Washington will try to give Kentucky 12-to-15 minutes in four-to-five minute stretches.

Washington maintained his conditioning by exercising on a low impact treadmill and bicycle in a therapeutic pool. Conditioning should not be an issue.

Will Washington play like the guy who has led Kentucky in scoring and rebounding this season, averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds?

I don’t know.

Tubby Smith thought Bogans could go on his bad ankle in that 2003 regional semifinal against Marquette in Minneapolis 16 years ago.

The box score says that Bogans gave the Wildcats 14 points in 24 minutes.

But video from the game shows that Bogans was a step slower than usual, no match for the Golden Eagles’ Dwyane Wade, who punished Kentucky with 29 points and 11 boards.

Kentucky, the No. 1 seed, lost, 83-69.

Bob Knight thought May could play with a soft cast on his left arm in 1975 in a regional final against Kentucky in Dayton 44 years ago.

The box score says that May scored two points and made three turnovers in seven minutes in a game UK won, 92-90. Knight later said it was one of the greatest coaching mistakes of his career.

Houston is not a jumbo-sized team. Sampson will start three guards. None are taller than 6 feet 3. The Cougars do not have a center. Their forwards are 6-7 and 6-8.

If the Wildcats get North Carolina in the regional final Sunday, they’ll need Washington. Against Houston, they might be able to survive and advance without him.

But if Washington is available, he’ll need to do more than play. He’ll need to play well.

Will Washington be able to do that?

He does not know. Nobody does.

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