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John Calipari’s best free-throw shooting UK team suffers familiar postseason fate

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Trouble at the stripe sent Kentucky home for a second straight season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Auburn vs Kentucky Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A weakness that seemed Kentucky had seemingly fixed reared its ugly head at the worst possible time.

In Kentucky’s 2018 Sweet 16 loss to the Kansas State, the Cats shot an ugly 23/37 at the free throw line.

PJ Washington went 8/20 on his own. In a game the Cats lost by three, it’s safe to say Kentucky would have been in the 2018 Elite Eight if they got the job done from the charity stripe.

After the 2018-19 regular season and even the SEC Tournament and first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament, nearly all of those memories were behind Kentucky.

The Cats had an outstanding free throw shooting season as they combined as a team to shoot to a 74% clip, the best in the John Calipari era. Tyler Herro led the way with a historical 93.5% free throw average, and Immanuel Quickley shot 82.8%

The 74% clip was almost five percent higher than the 69.3% clip from 2017-18.

Thus, heading into the Elite Eight against Auburn, free throw shooting wasn’t a concern.

However, this is precisely what sunk Kentucky. In the loss to Auburn, the Cats went 12/21 from the stripe. Washington scored 28 points in the game, but his performance at the free throw line was one to forget, as he went 6/11 from the charity stripe. But he was also ‘the’ reason why Kentucky was even this game, and other guys had missed opportunities here.

Reid Travis, a senior looking to play in his hometown of Minneapolis, went 1/3. Keldon Johnson went 4/6 at the line, and the only other free throw shooter was Ashton Hagans, who went 1/1.

As for Auburn free throws were no problem. The Tigers shot 75% on the stripe, including an 11/11 effort from Jared Harper.

Perhaps the worst part wasn’t how bad UK shot, but how Tyler Herro didn’t attempt a single free throw. He attempts 2.6 per game and had attempted nine in his last two games. Not getting him to drive more and draw fouls was a big reason why Kentucky was unable to win this game in regulation.