Take a deep breath and check your heart rate.
Tyler Herro and PJ Washington entered Kentucky folklore as the Wildcats survived and advanced with a 62-58 victory over the Houston Cougars.
While the win wasn’t pretty, a win is a win. However, there are plenty of things to look at and learn from as we look forward to Sunday’s game against Auburn.
Tyler Herro THE Hero
After Herro only scored 9 points on 2-11 shooting, it was a good sight to see Tyler “Bucket” Herro back in full swing as he scored 19 on 7-13 shooting. Including the three to give Kentucky the lead with 25.8 seconds left.
After missing a free throw earlier in the half, Mr. Clutch went on to sink two free throws to give Kentucky a comfortable four-point lead with 15 seconds to go.
Herro took Kentucky fans back to Aaron Harrison’s 2014 run with that shot and with that shot, he will always be remembered.
PJ Washington, We Don’t Win Without Him
Before the game, there was still speculation on whether PJ Washington would play or not. On Friday, he was back in full form, and that foot didn’t look to bother him one bit.
In two games without PJ, Kentucky definitely missed his offense. In his return, PJ played one of his most efficient games of the year. Coming off the bench and in 26 minutes, PJ recorded 16 points (6-8), 2 rebounds, and 1 assist.
After the game, Calipari noted that PJ didn’t participate in pregame shootaround due to pain and was unsure if he was going to play.
In Calipari’s postgame words, “we don’t win without him [PJ]”.
In three NCAA tournament games, the Wildcats have yet to give up more than sixty points or let a team shoot over 40% FG from the field.
After limiting Flethcer “Oofer” Magee to 0-12 on three point shooting last weekend, the focus shifted to Houston’s Corey Davis Jr. on Friday night.
Davis came into the game averaging 23.5 points and five made three-pointers in two NCAA Tournament games. Tyler Herro had another great defensive performance limiting Davis Jr. to just 14 points (5-16) and 1-7 from three.
On Sunday, the Cats will face off against the Auburn Tigers for the third time this season and will have to limit their guards, Jared Harper and Bryce Brown who have both played great since SEC play.
Coming into the game, Houston was top-10 in every rebounding category and many had anticipated the Cougars to put up a fight on the boards, but that just wasn’t the case.
On Thursday, Houston’s Chris Harris, told Kyle Tucker of The Athletic:
“I believe that will be the game. Whoever wins the rebounding battle, that will be the game.”
In the end, it wasn’t too much of a battle and Harris’ comments rang true. Kentucky’s size was too much to handle for the Cougars as the Wildcats outrebounded Houston by 13 (36-23) and escaped with the win.
Kentucky has played one and a half games of good offense in three tournament games and that needs to change in a hurry.
After putting up 37 points in the first half, Kentucky only scored 12 points in just under 17 minutes which allowed Houston to regain the lead down the stretch. Kentucky went on to score 13 points in the final three minutes to win the game.
Simply. that just can’t happen again if the Cats want to win a national title.
On Sunday, the Cats will take on the Auburn Tigers for the third time this season and are playing their best basketball of the season. Auburn is a great offensive team, as they are ranked 6th in offensive efficiency and has scored 78 or more points in all three of their NCAA Tournament games.
Auburn truly lives and dies by the three. As we have seen in Kentucky’s two games against Auburn this year, they can lose by thirty or win the game, there’s no in between. Kentucky has to be ready for their best shot.
Survive and advance. The Cats are one step closer to Minneapolis.