KANSAS CITY, MO (WAVE) - Despite looking shaky down the stretch, the Kentucky Wildcats were able to pull out a win over the Houston Cougars, 62-58, to earn a trip to the Elite Eight.
A three-pointer late from the hero himself, Tyler Herro was the difference in what turned out to be a nail-biter for Big Blue Nation. Herro nailed the three with 25 seconds left on the clock, to put Kentucky up 60-58.
The big story for UK headed into Friday night was if star sophomore PJ Washington would play. After appearing in both a walking boot and a hard cast over the previous weeks, Washington saw action in Friday’s win, and was a difference-maker for Kentucky.
Not only did Washington play, he didn’t look like he missed a beat, delivering the Cats 16 points on 6-8 shooting in 26 minutes.
“His energy was tremendous," Keldon Johnson said. “I’m happy to see him back and healthy.”
Though Washington appeared back to 100-percent, he did note he felt some discomfort during the game.
“I took some pain pills before the game,” Washington said. “Kind of started hurting in the second half, but I have to tough through it. Through the end of the game, it was trying to cramp up. I’m definitely going back to get some treatment after this and try to get a good night’s sleep.”
After the game, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said it’s remarkable what his team has been able to accomplish, despite several players being banged up this year.
“To be where we are still standing when we had Reid (Travis) out for what, three weeks, we had PJ out for -- how we got through last weekend without him, I have no idea. I’ll say it again, if you take the best player off of any team in the NCAA Tournament, they’re not going to be the same. We just happened to survive.”
After a close opening minutes to the game, the Cats would go on a 7-0 run to lead 19-12 with 8:30 to go before the break. They would extend the lead to as many as 14 at one point in the first, and led 37-26 at the break. Houston had as many personal fouls (10) as it did made field goals in the first 20 minutes.
Houston made it interesting early in the second, cutting the Cats’ lead to 47-45 with 10:41 left in the game.
The game was tied at 49 with just over four minutes remaining. Houston took the lead on a Corey Davis Jr. layup with 3:30 left, which capped off an 11-2 run by the Cougars.
The Wildcats’ rebounding was absolutely lights out in the first half, winning the battle on the boards 18-7, but the Cougars stepped up their game on the boards in the second, with the final margin at 26-23.
After many predicted Friday night’s contest would be physical inside, Kentucky edged out a win in points in the paint, winning that battle 28-22.
“I love our will to win,” Calipari said. “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. But Houston, they’re a terrific team. Calvin has done an unbelievable job. 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.”
With the win on Friday night, Calipari reached his seventh Elite Eight in ten years.
Next up for the Cats, the Auburn Tigers. Auburn upset North Carolina in Friday’s first game, 97-80.