By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky couldn’t score. It had let an 11-point lead get away in the second half of Friday’s Sweet Sixteen game against Houston and had 10 points in 15 minutes in the second half. If that wasn’t bad enough, Tyler Herro not only shot an air ball on a contested shot but he missed a free throw — something he never does.
“I haven’t seen him miss a free throw in a long, long, long, long, long, long time,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after his team did rally to beat Houston 62-58 to advance to Sunday’s Elite Eight game against SEC rival Auburn. “He missed that free throw. I looked at my bench. I go, ‘This doesn’t look good for us because, you know, when he misses a free throw, this could go south in a hurry.’”
Houston overcame a 37-26 halftime deficit to take a 54-51 lead with 3 minutes, 10 seconds to play. Kentucky could have folded, but it didn’t.
— Reid Travis hit two free throws with 2:52 left and then the UK defense forced an air ball.
— About 30 seconds later, Ashton Hagans got fouled on a drive and hit both free throws to put uK on top 55-54.
— Houston charged back to take a 58-55 lead with 1:08 to play before PJ Washington got the ball inside, scored, was fouled but missed the free throw leave Houston on top 58-57 with 55.8 seconds left.
That set the stage for two huge plays — a Washington blocked shot and then a 3-pointer by Herro with 25.8 seconds to play to put UK on top 60-58.
“He didn’t listen to me. When he caught it, I said “Drive the ball, drive the ball,’” Calipari said. “He shot it. I said, ‘Great shot, Tyler. Way to make those plays.’”
Houston had one final chance but Hagans’ defense was just good enough to force a miss. Hagans got the rebound, passed to Herro and he was fouled. This time he was money at the foul line with 13 seconds left to ice the win.
Herro finished with a team-high 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting along with three rebounds and two assists.
“I love our will to win. How we played down the stretch, Ashton making free throws, Tyler makes his shot, PJ makes the 3-point play. We make our free throws, we defend,” Calipari said. “But Houston, they’re a terrific team. They were not going to go away. We had to go get balls and do some stuff to beat them, and it was a great win and I’m happy for our guys.”
Herro downplayed the shots he made late.
“I just brought the ball up. Hit Keldon on the wing and I made the (3-point) shot. My free throws I just knocked down my normal two free throws,” Herro said.
Washington’s presence was huge, too. He had missed the previous two games with a foot injury, was in a cast until Tuesday and didn’t practice until Friday when he did very little. He had 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting in 26 minutes.
Calipari said without Washington, Kentucky doesn’t win.
“He was good, really good,” Calipari said.