Washington, Herro talk about how the Wildcats held off Houston
He takes one dribble. He spins the ball in his hands. He shoots it.
In describing his routine before shooting free throws, Tyler Herro made it sound simple. But he forgot the final step in his routine: the ball going through the basket.
Herro has made 70 of 72 free throws since missing one against North Carolina on Dec. 22. He had made 30 straight before missing one against Houston in UK’s 62-58 victory in Friday’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Region semifinals.
“It felt weird,” Herro said of the miss.
He wasn’t alone in being taken aback.
“I haven’t seen him miss a free throw in a long, long, long, long, long, long time,” UK Coach John Calipari said. The most recent miss came at Tennessee on Feb. 16. “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.”
Not to worry. Herro clinched UK’s victory by making two free throws with 13.7 seconds left.
The miss was a surprise. But Herro shooting clutch free throws in the final minutes of a competitive game was a familiar sight.
“My teammates just trust me in that situation,” Herro said. “My coaches, they love to get me the ball. I’ll make two free throws at the end of games pretty much every time.”
For the season, Herro has made 87 of 93 free throws. That 93.5-percent accuracy is on pace to break the UK record for a season shared by Travis Ford (1993-94) and Kyle Macy (1979-80) at 91.2 percent. (The NCAA record is 97.5 percent by Blake Ahearn of Missouri State in 2003-04.)
“The thing that’s amazing is most of them don’t even touch the rim,” Macy said of Herro’s free throws. “So it’s been impressive.”
Associate coach Kenny Payne credited more than shooting ability for Herro’s near perfection as a free throw shooter.
“It’s a mentality,” he said. “To run off that many free throws in a row and have that kind of shooting percentage, that’s a mentality.”
When asked if it’s a luxury for Kentucky to have a player almost guaranteed to make clutch free throws, Payne said, “It’s a vital piece of what we do as a team, getting the ball in his hands late in games.”
Macy and Herro’s roommate/teammate Keldon Johnson used the word “automatic” to describe their belief that the free throws will be made.
“It’s a bucket,” Johnson said. “It’s going in.”
The UK freshman’s father, Chris Herro, said that his son’s work ethic and personality help make him a good free-throw shooter.
“He’s a different breed,” the elder Herro said. “He’s just so anal in how he does stuff. He hates to fail. At the end of the day, he doesn’t want to let people down. He doesn’t want to let himself down. He doesn’t want to let Kentucky down. So he’s focused. It’s really cool, to be honest.”
Chris Herro said that he was happy to see his son miss a free throw against Houston. That might remove any psychological weight imposed by a streak should Tyler step to the line at the end of, say, a Final Four game, he said.
This line of thinking brought a smile to Tyler Herro’s face.
“I guess you could say that,” he said. “So I don’t get jinxed or something like that.”
Not just Kentucky
Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said the Atlantic Coast Conference raised its basketball profile by having several teams do well. It was not just North Carolina and Duke.
Pearl saw the SEC needing to raise its profile in a similar fashion.
“It can’t just be Kentucky,” he said. “It can’t just be when Billy Donovan was at Florida.”
Auburn point guard Jared Harper had 11 assists against North Carolina. He surpassed the 500 assists mark for his career, sitting at 503.
In the second game against Kentucky, Harper did not have an assist for the only time this season.
“I honestly looked at the game and saw I had a couple of assists,” Harper said. “But I really didn’t want to get into that.”
UK’s Alumni Association will hold a pep rally Sunday in Kansas City. The rally is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. CDT (12:30 p.m. EDT) at Kansas City Live!, which is on Grand Boulevard between 13th and 14th Streets.
Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel and sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl will call the game for CBS.
Kentucky vs. Auburn history
Kentucky leads all-time series 94-19
At Lexington: UK is 48-2
At Auburn: UK is 31-15
On neutral floors: UK is 15-2
Postseason meetings: UK is 13-1 in SEC Tournament meetings. This is the schools’ first-ever meeting in the NCAA Tournament.
Longest streaks: Kentucky beat Auburn 18 times in a row from Feb. 28, 2001, to March 14, 2015. Auburn has never beaten Kentucky more than two times consecutively.
Overtime games: Kentucky is 2-2 in games against Auburn that went to overtime.