Sidelines with John Clay

Reaction to Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament win over Houston

Kentucky built a 13-point lead, slowly lost it, then rallied its way into the Elite Eight with a nail-biting 62-58 win over Houston late Friday night/early Saturday morning in a Midwest Region semifinal.

Here are some NCAA Tournament notes and links:

PJ Washington imposed his will, reports Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. “After leading Kentucky to a 62-58 victory over Houston in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, PJ Washington met the press around his locker in a most unusual way. Washington hopped on his right foot, careful to keep his left foot off the floor as he traversed from the trainer’s room to his locker.”

My takeaways from the UK win. “In the end, the Cats pulled the win out of the fire. But not without testing Big Blue Nation’s blood pressure in the process. UK led 37-26 at halftime. And the Cats had not lost a game when leading by double digits at halftime since Dec. 15, 2007, at Freedom Hall in Louisville. Up 40-28 over UAB that afternoon under Billy Gillispie, the Cats lost 79-76. So, yes, Calipari still has never lost a game at Kentucky in which his team led by 10 or more at the half.”

[NCAA Tournament bracket]

Ashton Hagans said there was no fear, reports Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader. “There’s no way around it. Ashton Hagans struggled for most of Kentucky’s 62-58 nail-biter of a victory over Houston on Friday night. On the biggest stage yet — two wins away from a trip to the Final Four — UK’s freshman point guard didn’t have much of anything go his way.”

Auburn riding a chip on its shoulder, writes Mark Story of the Herald-Leader. “Auburn’s low moment of the season came against Kentucky in Rupp Arena late in February. On Feb. 23, the Tigers got run out of Lexington, beaten by 27 points. In the aftermath, Auburn found itself face-to-face with its basketball mortality.”

PJ Washington earned a place in UK history, reports Jon Hale of the Courier-Journal. “For someone who was in too much pain to complete Kentucky’s shoot around earlier in the day, PJ Washington sure looked like a player eager to get on the court. With Kentucky coaches uncertain how much he would be able to play in his first game back from a sprained left foot, Washington opened the No. 2 seed Wildcats’ Sweet 16 game against No. 3 seed Houston on the bench.”

PJ made Houston feel the pain, writes Rick Bozich of WDRB. “Even the wackiest, most anonymous, juvenile message board poster could not have criticized Kentucky forward PJ Washington if Washington had decided to miss the Wildcats’ Midwest Regional semifinal against Houston Friday night. The one Kentucky won, 62-58, but would likely have lost without Washington.”

Tyler Herro keeps Kentucky dancing, writes Derek Terry of the Cats Pause. “Herro said after the Arkansas game earlier this season that he’s a bucket, and there’s never been a shot in his life more important than the game-winner against No. 3 seed Houston. Kentucky relinquished a 13-point second half lead and trailed 58-55 going into the final minute. The Wildcats finished on a 7-0 run with Herro scoring five of the points.”

UK bounces into Elite Eight, writes Keith Taylor of Kentucky Today. “I love our will to win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “How we played down the stretch ... they were not going to go away. We had to get some balls and do some stuff to beat them. It was a great win and I’m happy for our guys.”

[Kentucky-Houston final box]

Auburn makes its way into the Elite Eight, writes Tom Green of AL. com. “Bruce Pearl wondered how his team would handle it — the moment when North Carolina goes on a run and tries to assert itself as one of the top teams in the country. That gut-check came with 7:12 left in the first half Friday night in Sprint Center, when point guard Jared Harper picked up his second foul — a ticky-tack call on a fastbreak layup by Nassir Little that tied the game.”

Herro saves UK, writes Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. “For his whole basketball career they’ve called him ‘Boy Wonder.’ To scores of Kentucky’s fans Tyler Herro will always be a … hero. Same pronunciation and spell check be damned, Kentucky’s gym-rat freshman made sure the Wildcats achieved their birthright Friday night in the Midwest Regional.”

Two parents watch their son star for UK, writes Kyle Tucker of The Athletic. “Chris Herro keeps looking up at the scoreboard, as if double-checking, then triple and quadruple, just to be sure this surreal moment is actually real. That his son, Tyler, had in fact hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 25.8 seconds left and the clinching free throws with 13.7 ticks to go in the Midwest Region semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. Several glances at the giant screen suspended above the court at the Sprint Center provide the pinch that proves he is not dreaming: Kentucky 62, Houston 58.”

Auburn rises above dirty business of college basketball, writes Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. “Under all the crud, the cash and the crackle of wiretaps, there was the quality of the game, and that made it all worth it. Auburn’s Sweet 16 victory over North Carolina was a matter of such pretty craftsmanship that it was cleansing. You forgot all about the greased palms and realized there has been a fallacy at the heart of the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption, that money makes it an irredeemable exercise. That’s wrong.”

Houston’s run comes to an end, writes Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle. “One of the best seasons in University of Houston history came down to the wire Friday night. After rallying from a 13-point deficit, the Cougars held the lead in the final minute only to have one of the best seasons in program history come to an end with a 62-58 loss to second-seeded Kentucky in a Midwest Region semifinal before an announced crowd of 17,385 at Sprint Center.”

North Carolina’s journey ended abruptly, writes Jonathan M. Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer. “The 97 points the Tar Heels allowed were the most points they allowed all season. The Tigers hit 17 3-pointers, the most 3’s a North Carolina team has allowed with Roy Williams as the coach. The Tigers also shot 54.5 percent from the floor for the game.”

NCAA Tournament schedule

Saturday, March 30

  • 6:09 - Texas Tech vs. Gonzaga (TBS)
  • 8:49 - Purdue vs. Virginia (TBS)

Sunday, March 31

  • 2:20 - Kentucky vs. Auburn (CBS)
  • 5:05 - Michigan State vs. Duke (CBS)

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