Strong 3-point shooting helps lead Cats over Auburn


Freshman guard Tyler Herro watches as his shot goes into the basket. UK men’s basketball team played against Auburn at Rupp Arena on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

“There were balloons going off in my head saying, great, this is unbelievable.”

That’s what UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari had to say about his team’s three-point shooting performance against the Auburn Tigers Saturday afternoon.

P.J. Washington made three three-pointers in the first six minutes of the game, finishing with 24 points and five threes made.

But he wasn’t alone– freshmen Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro joined in on the party. Herro had 17 points and drained three three-pointers, while Hagans had 14 points with two beyond the arc. All three players shot above 50 percent from the field. 

The Cats’ 11 three-pointers is the second-most they’ve made this year.

“The kids performed. Our shootaround this morning, we were up early. We had a shootaround early this morning, and guess what, they were great,” Calipari said. “They were focused. They were engaged. They listened.” 

Coming off a National Player of the Week performance against Missouri, Washington set a new career high in three-pointers made. His 24-point performance marks his eighth 20-point game in the last 10 games. A game like this speaks to Washington’s development. 

“Last year, I wouldn’t even really shoot threes honestly. This year, I feel like my game has expanded a lot more,” Washington said. “Auburn was denying me in the post, so I was just hitting shots today and just kept shooting.” 

Hagans made only five of 27 three-pointers coming into the game, but he made two against Missouri last week and maintained that consistency against Auburn. 

“We’re difficult when making those shots,” Hagans said. “With anybody on any team when you’re knocking down threes, you can open up lanes for easy drives, easy layups, and that’s what we did.”

The Cats are 7-0 this season when Herro makes at least three three-pointers. He currently leads the team in threes made with 46. 

Saturday’s three-point shooting performance from the Cats has been a rare sight this season as they were averaging 17.3 three-point attempts per game and shooting 35.4 percent from beyond the arc entering Saturday’s contest. 

Calipari believes he know why. 

“I’m going to say it again: Any time my team has taken 30 threes, we’ve lost. I was like, we’re not doing this in the second half,” Calipari said. “That’s not who we are. We happen to make them, great. Now we’re going to go play how we play and we did.”

Auburn entered the game having held its last seven opponents to shooting 28.9 percent from three-point range. Tigers’ head coach Bruce Pearl acknowledged the Cats’ performance. 

“I’m sure John [Calipari] challenged his shooters,” Pearl said. “We knew P.J. was shooting well and for some reason we backed off of him, shouldn’t have. Dribble penetration is key and they have guys who can turn corners.” 

With only four regular season games remaining for the Cats, Hagans said the team “needs to be focused.”

“The guys that stepped up today, that’s what we need for this team to stay good.”