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Kentucky advances to Sweet Sixteen with win over Wofford, 62-56; Herro gets last-basket 3-pointer

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (KT) — Nobody has made more 3-pointers in college basketball than Fletcher Magee. In his final collegiate contest, Kentucky’s defense made the Wofford standout’s performance less than memorable.

Magee failed to make a three on 12 attempts as the Wildcats survived with a 62-56 win over the Terriers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday at VyStar Veterans Arena. Kentucky held on despite making just one field goal in the final five minutes.

Wofford (30-5) made 13 shots from long range in an opening round win over Seton Hall but managed just eight, five of which came in the first half, against the Wildcats. Kentucky made shots harder to come by for Magee and his teammates, especially in the second half.

Kentucky’s Reid Travis scrambles on the floor after a loose ball.

“The way they shoot threes, they’re dangerous,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

“They change how you have to play defensively. I thought out bigs did a great job today … we hoped our length would bother them.”

The last basket by the Wildcats — 3-point dagger by Tyler Herro — combined with four free throws in the final 17 seconds, was just enough for Kentucky to keep tapping their toes in the Big Dance.

The defensive effort propelled the Wildcats (29-6) into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, where the Wildcats will face the winner of Sunday’s Houston-Ohio State contest in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday in Kansas City.

Playing without leading scorer and rebounder PJ Washington who watched and cheered from the sidelines, the Wildcats used solid defensive performances to dismantle their first two opponents in the tournament. 

The Wildcats limited Abilene Christian to just 44 total points, including 13 in the opening half in the tournament opener Thursday night. They stepped it up a notch and used the same defensive intensity against the Terriers.

“We wanted to make every shot tough,” said Kentucky guard Jermarl Baker, who came off the bench and scored a career-high eight points. “We tried to be as physical as we could the whole game and never let up. We didn’t want to have any breakdowns for sure and we had to stay engaged (on defense).”

Herro finished with just four points, but the biggest contribution by the freshman guard was his defense on Magee, who had seven 3-pointers in an 84-68 win over Seton Hall in the tournament opener Thursday night.

“We just caught him on an off day and it was good to go against a great player like him,” Herro said. “My goal was not to worry about scoring. I tried my all to shut him down. He just missed some shots. All great shooters have bad nights. He’s a great player.”

Known as Kentucky’s best defensive player, Ashton Hagans wasn’t surprised by Herro’s defensive performance against Magee.

“Tyler did a great job on him,” Hagans said.

Kentucky, which blew an eight-point lead a week ago in a 82-78 loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference seminars, faced a similar finish against the Terriers but didn’t falter down the stretch.

“We made free throws down the stretch, got stops and we were locked in on the defensive end,” Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley said. “We didn’t want to let them get any easy buckets on the three-point line and I think we did that.”

The end result inched the Wildcats two steps closer to the Final Four and they plan on continuing the postseason journey in Kansas City.

“We don’t want to be the team going home,” Baker said. “This is a reward for us to be able to move on.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today.

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