Kentucky’s Tyler Herro has career night in win over Arkansas
An unexpectedly taut, competitive game saw Tyler Herro step to the foul line with 5.4 seconds left and Kentucky clinging to a 66-65 lead.
Mason Jones of Arkansas tried to inject some negativity into Herro’s mind.
“He told me to miss one for him,” Herro said.
Herro’s reply? “I’m a bucket,” he said.
After Herro made both free throws, Jones gave UK’s freshman sharpshooter his due. “I knew you were going to make it,” he told Herro.
Jones was hardly alone in that confidence. The free throws made Herro 52 of 53 from the line since Kentucky defeated North Carolina on Dec. 22.
The shots against Arkansas were part of a career-high 29-point game that propelled Kentucky to a 70-66 victory Tuesday night.
When asked about Herro’s near perfection as a free-throw shooter (98.1-percent accuracy since Dec. 22), Nick Richards offered a colorful endorsement of his teammate’s shooting ability.
“Put it this way,” Richards said. “Sometimes Coach (John Calipari) tells us to box out (on free throws). When Tyler’s at the line, sometimes I don’t. I just feel it’s just going in. So I just want to go back the other way.”
Herro made nine of 10 field-goal attempts. His only miss was a three-pointer. He made a career-high five.
Kentucky needed that kind of shooting to improve to 24-4 overall and 13-2 in the Southeastern Conference. The latter kept UK in a first-place tie with LSU, which defeated Texas A&M. Tennessee can make it a three-way tie by winning at Ole Miss on Wednesday night.
With freshman Isaiah Joe scoring 16 of his team-high 19 points in the first half, Arkansas led 39-28 at halftime. UK had not been that far behind after 20 minutes since Duke blitzed the Cats 59-42 in the first half of the opening game.
Calipari noted that Herro was partly, if not primarily responsible for this predicament. Herro was guarding Joe to start the game.
A question about Herro’s well-documented swagger led Calipari to said, “Well, you know he gave up like 25 points today.”
Then Calipari added a sarcastic, “So he had a great swagger going on defense.”
Herro, who had played against Joe on the AAU circuit, expressed surprise at the Arkansas player’s shooting display in the first half: five of seven overall, four of five from three-point range.
“I didn’t know he was, like, that good a shooter,” Herro said.
This sounded curious. Joe came into the game having equaled the fourth-most three-pointers made by a SEC freshman, set by Kentuckian Chris Lofton. His five gave him 98 on the season.
“He hit some tough shots on me,” Herro said. “But he’s a great player.”
When Calipari put stopper Ashton Hagans on Joe, the Arkansas player scored at a less daunting clip.
When asked what Hagans did that Herro didn’t, Calipari said, “Well, the biggest thing Tyler was doing is he couldn’t guard him. … If he would have stayed on him, he probably would have had: what’s the record in here? 41?”
Actually, David Robinson set the record by scoring 45 for Navy against UK on Jan. 25, 1987.
“He probably would have had a nice 46 if Tyler had stayed on him,” Calipari said. “So we had to switch.”
Herro balked at the scenario Calipari proposed.
“I don’t know about that,” he said.
When asked if he could have held Joe to under 40 points, Herro said, “Yeah. Definitely.”
Herro scored 17 of his 29 points in the second half. In that time, Kentucky rallied from a 45-30 hole to win.
Arkansas fell to 14-14 overall and 5-10 in the SEC. The Razorbacks lost a sixth straight game for the first time since 2009-10, and lost for the ninth time by a single-digit margin.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson saw Herro’s big scoring night as a byproduct of his team putting a priority on containing PJ Washington.
“I think in basketball, if somebody takes away something for you, you take advantage of what they are doing,” Anderson said. “We said, you know what. If we’re going to make PJ … work for it.”
Washington scored nine points, which snapped a 12-game streak of reaching double digits.
“That’s the good thing about us,” Herro said. “When they’re trying to make someone else beat them, I think we have enough weapons to do that.”
No. 4 Kentucky at No. 7 Tennessee
2 p.m. Saturday (CBS-27)