Facing the first true road test of the season, Tyler Herro turned a hostile KFC Yum Center into his own personal comfort zone as the freshman sharp-shooter looked almost effortless in scoring a career-high 24 points to lead the Kentucky Wildcats to a 71-58 win over rival Louisville on Saturday afternoon.
After battling early-season shooting woes, Herro was on fire against the Cardinals as he connected on 10-of-13 shots from the field in just over 36 minutes of action. The 6-foot-5 freshman had 14 points in the first half and also helped lead an active defensive effort on his way to being named the game’s most valuable player.
Louisville’s opened the game with a quick three pointer and led 13-11 with 13:50 left in the first half on a Christen Cunningham layup. The Cats then went on a 18-4 run that included two three-pointers from Herro and a PJ Washington bucket that pushed the lead to 31-17 with 6:00 minutes remaining in the half. The Cardinals cut the lead to 35-27 at the half but never made a real threat to get back in the game.
Ashton Hagans made sure to stop any late-game momentum by the Cardinals as he converted on back-to-back layups to push the lead to 65-49 at the 2:25 mark. Keldon Johnson closed it out with an exclamation point in the form of a thunderous one-handed dunk right before the final horn.
Johnson, the team’s leading scorer, finished with 15 points, while Hagans added 11. PJ Washington scored just five points, but was a force inside, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking four shots.
Kentucky, 10-2, will now take its No. 16 ranking into conference play in January.
After the game, head coach John Calipari met with the media to talk about the big win. Here is a recap of everything he said via UK Athletics:
(About UK’s length and height)
“Well, let me just say this: the job Chris (Mack) has done with this team, the tapes that I’ve watched, the way they create fouls. They’re one or two in the country in fouls created. The way they rebound the ball, now you’re saying ‘they don’t have the size that you do’. They rebound the ball. It’s one of the best things they do. They’re top in that. Their offense is rated in the top 15. Think about what I’m saying.
“And now you could say ‘well, who’d they play?’ Seton Hall beat us. They beat Seton Hall. They beat Michigan State. I mean they’re playing, when you’re talking about teams even like Kent State. They were 8-1. I mean they’ve played quality teams and they’ve performed. Now, I think you’re right, our length kind of bothered them. And our length should bother a lot of people. But here’s the other thing, we’re getting better and better. And it just takes time, and it’s a process, and we win or we learn.
“So if everybody could get mad that I said that again. We win or we learn. When it’s a process with these young guys, that’s what it is. And the biggest thing is me trying to figure them out. I thought EJ Montgomery was great today. Jemarl Baker came in and helped us. Obviously, Tyler (Herro) played well, but he also rebounded. PJ (Washington) and Reid (Travis) were strong and Nick (Richards) didn’t get as many minutes today because EJ played well.”
(On Tyler Herro being the difference maker)
“Well, I did some stuff today because we drove a couple times. I was like ‘holy jeez, maybe we can drive these guys’. I didn’t think we could. My issue was that they were going to drive us. And then we started playing and he got by a guy, Keldon ((Johnson) got by a guy, and then we opened up the offense a little bit and played a little different than we’ve been playing. But he played well. And he also rebounded the ball. He ends up with five rebounds. But again, it was a low turnover game for us in a game like this in this environment against a team like that. There was a lot of good stuff that came out. PJ (Washington) and Reid (Travis) played good. I mean, they both played well.”
(About Ashton Hagans)
”Better. Better. He called his own play. You watched him. He came over, looked at me, and said ‘coach, fist down’ I said ‘run it’, and he went and scored a layup. This is becoming a player-driven team. They’re not quite empowered yet because they don’t hold each other accountable enough yet to be empowered totally. But it is a player-driven team. Practices have been player-driven. It’s not me now. It’s not me having to get them going or make them play. There were some things today, and I told them after, our issue right now is we have lapses. So we’ll go through a two or three minute lapse like ‘what were you doing? Why weren’t you playing?’ Some of it’s letting up, and acting like you’ve won, others are like decision-making. We leave a corner, and shoot a quick three to end the half, we’re up 13. And all of a sudden, you turn around, and you walk in up eight and they have the ball. That’s anybody’s ball game. So, and I told him, I said ‘that’s a high school move, man’. I got a good team. I mean, I’ve had a good team. I know our fans have loved this. All season, our fans have bragged about these kids and talked up about how good. There’s no room on the bandwagon.”
(About the learning experiences, Tyler, the shot he took at the end of the first half)
“He doesn’t do it again. But the other one was Ashton talking to one of their guys in a game that you’re going to win. So what, you’re going to get a technical something’s going to happen, you’re going to hit somebody, you’re out the next game? What? ‘Well, he came up on me’ I don’t care who came up on who! You just have to know! You can’t do that! Well, they don’t know. They think they’re playing a pickup game and you said something to me. Yeah? Well, wait a minute. I hate to tell you, I go through this every year. It just ages me more the last couple years.”
(About Herro’s swagger)
”Well, there’s been some games that he didn’t thrive. In Seton Hall, and there’s some other games where he wasn’t thriving. But I’m trying to say to him and Kelvin, ‘what do you do to help us win when you’re not making shots?’. So, you don’t make shots. Don’t worry about it. Do all the other stuff to help us win ball games.” [About playing in a hostile environment] “It was a good effort. It was a good fight. It was a game that you knew you were going to have to come in and battle.
“For us, it’s nice to be in games where the other team has as much to lose as we do. Ninety percent of our games the other team has nothing to lose and they’re jacking up balls, falling into seats, double clutching, hitting lights, the ball goes in. He’s made three threes and that’s the first three threes he’s made all year. He’s not made any except he just made three. This is a game, including the last game we played, both teams had something to lose. For us to be in that environment, we’ve been there now almost every game we’ve played.”
(Did you go back and try to find what you had in the Bahamas)
“Yeah, I was trying to schedule those teams. I wanted them to come back and the guy from … Lithuania … I tried to get them back on the schedule. If we play them we’re going to be confident and happy and everybody is going to do their thing. There were things that happened and I said I’m not intoxicated by what happened down there but I probably was. The beginning of this year we were a bad defensive team. We had a bunch of unwilling passers. In other words, I’m only passing if I don’t have a shot. We had guys that were so focused on themselves that they couldn’t play for us. I missed it as a coach. But after I saw it I was like alright we’re going back to these things and we’re going to get better at this stuff. There are times I make mistakes.
“I think it was 1978? 77 or 78? Something like that. If you screw up you’ve got to start all over. But these kids are doing exactly what I’m asking them to do so if it’s not working don’t be mad at them. No one should get mad at these kids. They’re 18 and 19-year-olds. They’re just out of high school. I’ve got one grad student (Reid Travis). He and I sit on the bus together and talk politics and stuff and the other guys look at us like we’re both crazy. But this is the process you go through. But I never lost any confidence in the kids. I told them that. But you’re going to have to play different. My latest message, and it’s just as much a holiday message to them, if you create opportunities for others you’re going to create more opportunities for yourself. It’s a little bit spiritual but it pertains to basketball too. So, PJ (Washington) had eight assists.
“Do you see him playing right now? He had eight assists last week. He created for his teammates and everybody talked about PJ. Ashton, all he’s doing is trying to run the team and get people involved and they’re talking about him. So, I’m telling the rest of the guys, if you’re willing passers, if you create for each other, you’re going to create more for yourself. That is not only in basketball, that’s in life. (About second chance points today. What does it mean that your team can go out there and play that well from the perimeter) “Well, again, we outrebounded these guys and both of us are great rebounding teams. And you had their guys, Nwora, coming from the perimeter just flying in.
“We weren’t blocking him out. Great lesson for us. Ours is more like playing mushmouth. We can play fast and win. We can play and grind it out and win. We’ve got to learn how to play late in games. We’ve got to learn how to play down eight, seven. How do we play now? There’s so many situations that we’re trying to work on right now because we have the time and we’re still in camp. We’re still going two and three times a day. They have two days off. They have their rest of today off and they have tomorrow off. Then we start up Monday. And we’re going twice on Tuesday, twice, three times on Wednesday, and we’re just, we don’t have anything else to do except video games.
“So, we’re practicing. We’re together, we’re watching film, we’re going over situations. This is the best time of the year for my team.”
(On EJ Montgomery’s importance)
“If we’re going to do something special, it will be with Nick (Richards). We must figure out how we are going to play those two. EJ was really good again today. He’s really good. He is a really good player who, is he as good as PJ and Reid, in some areas, but he’s not as physically tough as those guys yet. But Nick gives us that seven-footer blocking shots; but today he couldn’t get a rebound, so I went with EJ and said EJ you’ll play. I told him after the game I’m not mad at you, but your minutes were based on your performance. We need you to win.”
(On the number of fouls)
“At one point I did not want to look up and see the foul differential. But I do know late in the game we only had a couple. You know what we’re playing basketball, were an aggressive team, if there’s body contact and they’re going against us then they’re going against us. I’ve done this long enough that if I need to get a technical I will. If I don’t need to I won’t, today I didn’t think I needed to. There were a couple calls that I questioned, and I told them. My only thing is, whatever you call on one end you have to call on the other end. And then I’m good. If you’re going to call walks on us, call walks on them. If you are calling this (over the back motion) like he didn’t go straight up, then call it on that end too and then I am fine. But if I am seeing this and they do the other then I am saying something.”
(On bandwagon fans)
“The fans that have really followed how I’ve done this for ten years, never mind. The fans that are mad at our kids being in the NBA making 1.5 billion dollars, they’re not changing. The reality of it is that the fans that really follow us they know this is a process. We’ve had teams that went to late February before they got it. Our fans stuck with them. I don’t pay attention to any of the chirping. I don’t watch it, I don’t read it. If it gets crazy, I will say to Eric, is there anything I need to deal with? I don’t watch it, I don’t read it. So if you are on the internet, or sending me emails, I don’t have email so you can’t send me one. If I need to talk to someone, I go into the bathroom and turn the water on.
“I don’t read Twitter or Facebook. I don’t read it. Let me say this though, we have the greatest fans. Kentucky is what you want. You never have to sell a ticket, you never have to worry about people being excited about games. You could play in a storm and there’s 20,000 people in that building. You know the hardcore people adopt these players and they become their sons and grandsons. There’s also a small percentage out there that are just crazy. I don’t pay any attention to them. Now here is the good thing. They will never steal my joy. They never will. I don’t listen. You just make yourself angry and go crazy you just go ahead and yourself crazy.
“And I will be smiling. Why is that guy always smiling.”
(On looking forward to the SEC schedule)
“The whole league is ridiculous. And you won’t believe this but were playing the top five teams in the conference twice. So, everybody that is really good we have twice. It is what it is. I told the team before the game, guys we have nine more of these just like this. They’re packed, they were in line waiting for tickets, they had the date marked on their calendars and they canceled weddings. That is what they do when we come to town so get used to it. Let’s have fun with it.”