ATLANTA – A 20-point scorer in six of the last seven games, PJ Washington has surged into national player of the year discussion and earned his way onto the midseason watch list for the 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy, awarded annually by the Atlanta Tipoff Club to the national player of the year.
Washington was one of 30 players on the midseason watch list released Tuesday. He’s one of three players from the Southeastern Conference on the list.
The UK sophomore forward is looking to become just the second Wildcat in Kentucky’s storied history to win the award. Anthony Davis, who led UK to the 2012 national championship, captured the school’s first and only Naismith Trophy.
The list will be narrowed to 10 national semifinalists on March 4. The four finalists will be announced March 19, at which point fans will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite player leading up to the final announcement. The 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy will be awarded at the Naismith Awards Brunch on April 7, during the Final Four in Minneapolis. Only players on the midseason team are eligible to advance to the next round.
Washington, who is one of 10 midseason finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Karl Malone Award, which honors the nation’s top power forward, is enjoying the best stretch of basketball in his career.
He’s scored 20 or more points in six of the last seven games and has been at the center of Kentucky’s rise to one of the top teams in the country. The Wildcats had won 10 in a row before Tuesday’s night’s last-second loss to No. 19/21 LSU, and are firmly in the race for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and in the middle of the SEC championship race.
Washington is averaging 20.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks over the last seven games. During that stretch, he’s shooting 52.0 percent from the floor and 50.0 from 3-point range. The surge in play includes three straight double-doubles vs. then-No. 9/10 Kansas, at Vanderbilt and at Florida.
Overall, Washington leads the Wildcats in both scoring (14.4 points per game) and rebounding (8.1 rpg). After mulling a decision to turn pro after last season, Washington is enjoying career highs in virtually every statistical category in his return sophomore season, including a team-high seven double-doubles.
For the season, Washington is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor and 43.1 percent from 3-point range. A year after hitting just five 3s in 37 games at a 23.8-percent rate, he’s already drained 22 in 24 games this season.
Perhaps the truest indicator of Washington’s worth this season is his impressive play vs. Kentucky’s best competition. In UK’s six games vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams, Washington is averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 50.7 percent.
Kentucky returns to action Saturday vs. No. 1/1 Tennessee at 8 p.m. in Rupp Arena. ESPN will be on hand to televise the game with ESPN College GameDay in town to spotlight the game.