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NCAA Basketball

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58
6:00 PM PT7:00 PM MT8:00 PM CT9:00 PM ET2:00 PM GMT10:00 PM 北京时间7:00 PM MST9:00 PM EST, Feb 19, 2019
Mizzou Arena, Columbia, Missouri  Attendance: 10,703

Washington, No. 4 Kentucky surging ahead of trip to Missouri

(AP Photo/James Crisp)

PJ Washington was a player who could have gone the one-and-done route and left for the NBA after his freshman season.

But Washington returned for his sophomore campaign and is now developing into a lethal force for fourth-ranked Kentucky.

Washington looks to post his eighth 20-point effort in the past nine games when the Wildcats (21-4, 10-2) visit Missouri on Tuesday night in SEC play at Columbia, Mo.

The 6-foot-8 Washington scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting on Saturday as Kentucky sternly defeated then-No. 1 Tennessee 86-69.

The victory meant more to him than the performance, which led him to be named SEC Player of the Week for the second time this season.

"This was my dream school growing up, so just to be here is a blessing for me," Washington told reporters after the win. "To go out there and beat a No. 1 team is just more than I could ask for. I'm just so proud of my teammates because of all the hard work we've been putting in.

"Everybody has been doubting us, but we feel like we deserve this. We're excited and just trying to get ready to play Missouri."

There were doubters about Washington when he was debating whether or not to return to school. He averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds last season but didn't make the type of impact to match his billing.

Things have been different this season with team-leading averages of 14.8 points and 8.0 rebounds. His recent strong stretch gives him nine 20-point outings to go with seven double-doubles.

"I've been a competitor all my life," Washington said. "I just feel like I spent a lot more time in the gym this year, and I want it more than I ever have. Just to be out here with these guys is a blessing."

The improvement isn't just staggering to Kentucky coach John Calipari. Outsiders see it too.

"You know, what makes me happy is when I'm hearing people call me and say, 'Cal, he's the most improved guy in the country,'" Calipari said during Saturday's postgame press conference. "Like he is it. And a big part of that was conditioning and toughness and focus."

Conquering the Wildcats -- who have won 11 of their past 12 games -- might be a tough task for Missouri (12-12, 3-9). The Tigers are 1-11 all-time against Kentucky and enter this contest with nine setbacks in their past 12 games.

Missouri is coming off a 75-65 loss to Mississippi in which it matched a season worst by committing 25 turnovers.

"It just came down to the 25 turnovers," Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters. "Twenty-five turnovers, it's hard to win a ballgame like that."

Senior guard Jordan Geist scored 23 points against Ole Miss and has reached double digits in seven straight games. He is averaging a team-best 14.2 points.

Sophomore guard Mark Smith (ankle) returned from a six-game absence but was limited to 14 minutes and had just three points. Smith averages 12.1 points.

"He's out there trying his hardest, trying to get back in shape," Geist said of Smith. "I'm just really proud of how strong-willed he was and how much confidence he still has going out there."

Meanwhile, Calipari is looking to record his 297th win at Kentucky, which would tie him with Joe B. Hall (297-100 from 1973-85) for second place on the school's all-time list. Calipari is 296-68 in 10 seasons.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 19, 2019

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