By LARRY VAUGHT
When Kentucky needed a hero, it found one in freshman Tyler Herro.
Kentucky trailed Arkansas by 15 points with 18 minutes to play here Tuesday night before rallying behind 29 points on 9-for-10 shooting from Herro to just get by Arkansas 70-66.
“Arkansas deserved to win the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They came in here and played. They fought. We just happened to make a run and beat them. They deserved to win this game but I am happy for my team.”
Arkansas, which had lost five straight games, dominated the first 22 minutes of the game against the sluggish Cats before UK turned to Herro and defense to win the game.
The Razorbacks went scoreless for almost seven minutes to enable UK to take a 54-51 lead. The Razorbacks managed just six points in 11 minutes and were just 9-for-29 from the field in the second half.
“We came in as underdogs. We tried to make plays and we did. The second half we didn’t do what we did the first half,” Arkansas’ Desi Sills, who had 15 points and hit three 3-pointers, said.
Herro’s heroics included two clutch free throws with 5.4 seconds left to push the UK lead to 68-65 and Immanuel Quickley iced the game with two free throws with 1.3 seconds left.
“He is a great player,” Arkansas freshman Isaiah Joe said about Herro. “I had played against on adidas circuit. I knew what we would see and he delivered. Credit to him. We let him get going.
Joe got going in the first half when he had 16 points. He finished with 19 on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range.
“They definitely brought more intensity (defensively) in the second half and it took us too long to adjust,” Joe said. “They took the lead and by the time we got ourself together it was too late. The first half my teammates found me but the second half I let them down. But credit to their defense.”
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said it was a combination of offensive breakdowns by his team and UK’s defense getting more aggressive in the second half that led to UK’s run.
“I thought we kind of panicked. You could see that with the shot clock running down. Kentucky is a great basketball team and you know they are going to make a run,” Anderson said. “You want your team to hang in there and not panic. But we kind of lost our cool a little bit.”
Anderson said his team’s defensive play was to “take away” PJ Washington — who had nine points and six rebounds — and UK’s inside game. But he was not surprised at what Herro did.
“He made shots tonight. They did a good job of finding him,” Anderson said. “In basketball if somebody takes away something, you take advantage of what they are doing. We were going to make PJ and those other guys work by scrambling our defense.”
Calipari said Herro’s defense was lacking and was one reason Arkansas hit so many 3-pointers.
“He was good. I didn’t know he had 29. He only shot 10 times. I didn’t know. Probably should have shot more balls,” Calipari said.