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Washington’s return, Herro’s heroics lead Cat’s to victory over Houston, trip to Sunday’s Elite Eight

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

PJ Washington returned at the right time for Kentucky.

The sophomore All-American, who missed the first two games of the NCAA Tournament because of a strained left foot, scored 16 points as Kentucky advanced to the Midwest Regional finals with a 62-58 win over Houston Friday night at the Sprint Center.

The Wildcats will take on Auburn (29-9) Sunday for a berth in next week’s Final Four in Minneapolis. The Tigers stunned top-seeded North Carolina 97-80 in the other semifinal to reach the region finals for the first time in 33 years. Auburn has won 11 in a row since an 80-53 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 23 in Lexington. Kentucky also defeated the Tigers 82-80 on Jan. 19 at Auburn.

Kentucky’s PJ Washington (25) and his teammates celebrate after holding off Houston, 62-58, in the Midwest semifinals in Kansas City. (Photo by Tammie Brown, 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.”

The key to taking another step in the Big Dance, Calipari said, was having Washington back on the court.

”We don’t win the game without him,” he said. “We don’t.”

Washington’s return to the court was a monumental boost for the Wildcats, especially in the first half. In his first appearance since Kentucky’s 82-78 loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference semifinals on March 16, Washington paced Kentucky with eight points in the opening half.

Although the tolerance level was low in the first half, Washington said the pain increased in the second half.

”It kind of started hurting me in the second half, but I had to tough through it,” Washington said. “Through the end of the game, it was trying to cramp up. I’m definitely going to get some treatment after this and try to get a good night’s sleep.”

Washington had a key block in the final minute that led to a 3-pointer by Tyler Herro to give Kentucky a 60-58 lead with 25 seconds remaining. Herro sank a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left to help the Wildcats overcome a late surge by Houston. 

Herro led the Wildcats with 19 points.

Kentucky lost to Kansas State 61-58 in the Sweet Sixteen in Atlanta a year ago, but avoided a misstep this time to set up an All-Southeastern Conference regional final. 

”They’re playing great right now,” Calipari said of the Tigers. “They went through our conference tournament and they’ve won (11) wins in a row. They’re playing and shooting it.

Armoni Brooks paced Houston (33-4) with 20 points. Brooks made six shots from long range, including five in the second half. 


Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said his team learned from their second setback to the Wildcats, which gave Kentucky a regular-season sweep of the Tigers.

“The lesson there was we didn’t — because we respect Kentucky so much and we recognize they had a great night, these guys weren’t destroyed,” Pearl said following his team’s win over the Tar Heels. “Kentucky really beat us. We didn’t play great, but we got it handed to us because they played so well.”

Auburn has thrived behind the arc and made 17 3-pointers in the win over the Tar Heels. 

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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