The good news for the Cats was PJ Washington made his return to the court after being out with an injury, and he had a huge impact.
Right from the tip you could tell that this was going to be a defensive battle, as the teams were tied at 10 with 13:33 left in the half.
That’s when Kentucky started figuring things out, and they surged to take a 21-14 lead into the under 8 timeout.
Houston would make a run to cut it to three, but the Cats rally and push the lead back to 10, 30-20, with just under 4 minutes left.
A couple bad possessions by the Cats allowed the Cougars to climb back in it, but the Cats once again answered with their own run and went into the break with a 37-26 lead.
In the second half, the Cats maintained close to a 10-point lead for a lot of the half, as they led 45-38 with just under 12 minutes left.
However, with 7:22 left in the game, Tyler Herro had a rare missed free throw on the front end of a one and one, and the game started to change.
Houston rallied, and with just over 4 minutes to play, drilled a three to tie the game at 49.
Shortly thereafter, the Cougars took a lead 51-49 and from that point on it was a battle with the Cats getting close to letting it slip away.
With 36 seconds left, the Cats were down one and PJ got a huge block and, then Herro knocked down a three to put Kentucky up 60-58.
The Cats took care of business the rest of the way and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 62-58 win over a very talented Houston team.
In the process, head coach John Calipari hit a pair of major milestones, as he continues to solidify himself as one of the best to ever coach at UK in any sport.
A pretty historic night for John Calipari: he surpasses Adolph Rupp in both NCAA Tournament wins (31) and 30-win seasons (5) in school history— Corey Price (@coreyp08) March 30, 2019
Thoughts on the game
Welcome back PJ Washington
After a week full of questions surrounding PJ and if he would play or not, he suited up and had a huge performance. He finished with 16 points, 2 rebounds, a block, and an assist.
Washington was an absolute beast all night on both ends of the floor and had the big-time block that led to the game-winning three.
PJ Washington scores on his first touch of the game. pic.twitter.com/T095271csV— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 30, 2019
PJ Washington with the long face up jumper. pic.twitter.com/k7H103inP9— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 30, 2019
Good Lord!— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 30, 2019
PJ Washington rejection leads to a monstrous 3 pointer by Tyler Herro.
Cal said on Thursday that he wouldn’t play too many minutes if he played at all. Well, he knew his team needed him and he logged 26 minutes and it took every single one of them for us to win.
Tyler Herro did it on both ends
A week after locking up Fletcher Magee, Herro comes back with the assignment of guarding Houston’s best player in Corey Davis Jr and he did a fantastic job.
Davis is a good three-point shooter and Herro held him to 1/7 from deep and 14 total points on 16 shots.
Then on the offensive end, he went for 19 points including the game-winning three. He also had 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
Tyler Herro with a tough sweeping floater. pic.twitter.com/ySB996pSKl— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 30, 2019
Big bucket by Tyler Herro. pic.twitter.com/8bKnTIMcC7— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 30, 2019
The last two tournament games have been very impressive for Herro, and UK will need it again on Sunday.
Reid Travis with quiet big plays
Travis didn’t score a ton as he had 6 points, but he made a huge impact in other ways.
He had 11 rebounds and played very solid interior defense. However, he made huge plays by diving on the floor and fighting for loose balls giving the Cats extra possessions.
Reid Travis gets on the floor for the loose ball leading to the Immanuel Quickley 3 pointer. pic.twitter.com/pH2bER7dPc— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 30, 2019
The game Travis had tonight is exactly why he is so important to this team and why he will be huge going forward.
EJ Montgomery had a huge first half
EJ finished with 2 points but he had 5 rebounds and three of those were offensive rebounds.
He did most of his damage in the first half grabbing huge offensive rebounds that gave the Cats extra opportunities, and looking back, were the difference in the game.
UK needs one of EJ or Nick to step up every time they take the floor and it was EJ in this one.
EJ Montgomery contest at the rim leads to the Reid Travis fast break slam. pic.twitter.com/O3XAomc1LV— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 30, 2019
On to the Elite Eight
With the win, the Cats advance to the Elite 8 and will face off against the Auburn Tigers at 2:20 on CBS.
Auburn is on a great run after beating Kansas and then knocking off the 1 seed North Carolina. UK beat them twice in the regular season, but they aren’t the same team that we faced, and the Cats will have to do it on the defensive end again to advance to the Final Four.
Also, it’s no secret that John Calipari and Bruce Pearl are bitter rivals, but they’ve never faced off with so much at stake. Sunday should be an absolute barnburner that UK will need its A game to win.
Team Records and Series Notes
· Kentucky improves to 30-6 overall while Houston ends its season with a 33-4 mark.
o UK entered the game ranked No. 7 nationally in both polls and the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region.
o Houston entered ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press Top 25, No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and the No. 3 seed in the Midwest.
· UK is now 4-1 vs. the Cougars but earned its first victory vs. Houston in the NCAA Tournament.
· Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats advanced to the Midwest Regional finals and will face No. 5 seed and Southeastern Conference rival Auburn on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET on CBS.
o They will be meeting for the third time this season with UK having taken both meetings earlier this year. This will be their first meeting in the NCAA Tournament. UK leads the all-time series 94-19.
Calipari in the NCAA Tournament
· Calipari has a 56-18 record in the NCAA Tournament.
· He is now 12-3 in Sweet 16 games in his career.
· This will mark his 12th Elite 8 appearance in the last 20 seasons.
· Per STATS, Calipari-coached teams have won 37 straight NCAA Tournament games when leading at halftime, tying John Wooden for the longest streak by an NCAA head coach.
· Calipari has made 10 Elite 8 appearances in his last 14 seasons as a head coach dating back to his time at Memphis.
In the NCAA Tournament
· Kentucky has an all-time record of 129-51 in the NCAA Tournament, more wins than any team in NCAA history.
· UK is making its NCAA record 58th appearance in the tournament.
· Kentucky is now 25-7 as the No. 2 seed in the tournament and 7-3 vs. No. 3 seeds.
· UK improved to 22-5 all-time in Sweet 16 games since 1975 (the first year that all teams in the tournament had to win at least one game to advance to the Sweet 16) and 37-11 in regional semifinals (1988 game was vacated and does not count towards either number).
· The Wildcats advanced to their 34th all-time Elite 8 appearance since 1951 (the first year that all teams in the tournament had to win at least one game to advance to the Elite 8).
· UK is making its seventh Elite 8 appearance in 10 seasons under John Calipari.
· Kentucky improved to 7-1 in Sweet 16 games under Calipari.
o The Wildcats’ seven Elite 8 appearances over the last 10 seasons are more than any other school.
· UK is 31-7 in the NCAA Tournament under Calipari.
· It was Kentucky’s first-even NCAA Tournament game in Kansas City, Missouri, an oddity considering UK has made more NCAA Tournament appearances than any other school and Kansas City has hosted more NCAA Tournament events other than Dayton, which hosts the play-in games every season.
· Calipari is now 305-70 at UK.
· Calipari has a 750-210 all-time on-court record.
· He is now 59-30 vs. vs. AP Top 25 competition at UK.
· UK is 31-7 in the NCAA Tournament under Calipari.
· Calipari is now 82-53 in his career when both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, including 51-26 at Kentucky.
· Calipari clinched his fifth 30-win season at Kentucky and 11th overall. He has the third-most 30-win seasons among active coaches behind only Mike Krzyzewski (15) and Roy Williams (12).
· UK improved to 7-4 vs. Associated Press Top 25 competition this season.
· Kentucky’s defense made the difference.
o Shooting better than 44 percent from the field for the season, Houston shot 39.6 percent today. UK is 182-15 (.924) under Calipari when keeping the opponents to 40 percent or less, including 18-0 this season.
· UK is 173-7 (.961) under Calipari when limiting the opponent to 63 points or less, including 21-0 this season.
· In three NCAA Tournament wins, UK is limiting opponents to 52.7 points per game, a 36.4 field-goal percentage and 28.6 percent from behind the arc.
· Kentucky won the rebounding, 36-23. UK is 25-4 this season when outrebounding the opponent.
· UK improved to 260-5 (.981) when leading by 10 points at any point in the game.
In the First Half
· Kentucky started the combination of Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery and Reid Travis for the second straight game.
· PJ Washington entered the game at the 15:41 mark after missing the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament with a left foot sprain.
o He made a turnaround jumper at the 15:06 mark
· UK went on a 9-2 run over 2:08 to open up a 21-14 lead at the 7:48 mark.
· Kentucky scored seven unanswered points to open up its first double-digit lead, 30-20 at the 3:43 mark.
· UK closed the half on an 8-0 run over the last 1:26 and also held Houston scoreless over the last 2:24 of the half.
· Kentucky had a 17-7 first-half advantage on the boards.
o UK made 4 of 8 (50 percent) 3-point attempts, while Houston went 1 of 6 (17 percent).
In the Second Half
· Houston outscored UK 12-6 though the first 7:26 of the second half.
· UH cut Kentucky’s lead to four at 45-41 with 10:36 to play,
o UK held Houston scoreless over the next 3:30 and had a six-point led at the 7:24 mark, 47-41.
· Houston cut UK’s lead to one at 47-46, when Washington scored right after the five-minute mark.
· UH’s Armani Brooks hit a 3 on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 49-49 with 4:09 to play
o Corey Davis Jr. made a driving layup with 3:39 to play, giving Houston its first lead of the second half.
· Trailing 58-55, UK scored five straight, capped by a Tyler Herro 3 with 25 seconds to go to give Kentucky 60-58 lead.
o UK closed the game on a 7-0 run over the last 0:55.
· PJ Washington made his return after missing the first two NCAA Tournament games with a sprained left foot. He had 16 points, two rebounds and an assist.
· Washington’s block led to Tyler Herro’s game-winning shot.
· Reid Travis had six points and a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with a pair of assists.
· He has double-figure in consecutive games for the second time as a Wildcat. He had 12 in consecutive games against Mississippi State and Kanas.
· Tyler Herro scored a team-high 19 points to couple with three boards, two assists and a steal.
· Herro drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds on the clock.
· He then knocked down a pair of go-ahead free throws with less than 14 seconds remaining.
· Immanuel Quickley contributed six points and two rebounds in 17 minutes of action.
· The six points were a career high during the NCAA Tournament and the most since he had 12 points against Alabama in the opening game of the SEC Tournament.
· He had two 3-pointers, the most since hitting three against the Tide in the SEC Tournament.