KANSAS CITY, MO. -- A team’s basketball season can be culminated in one play. The tip of the iceberg that encompasses a season of sweat, struggle and success. For Kentucky, it was the Commonwealth Closer that gave them a two-point lead with 25 seconds left, lifting them over the Houston Cougars. It sent them to the Elite Eight, the place UK’s season ended just two seasons ago. Let's get a couple things out of the way first:
Why is it called the Commonwealth Closer? I thought it sounded cool. Isn't it cheesy? Possibly. Then why are you sticking with that name? Because it's completely super cool, and you can't convince me otherwise.
There are several parts to a game-defining shot. It culminates not only the season, but the game in which it occurs. There are several factors in a game-defining shot, and I’ve done my best to break them down as follows, complete with what each factor is worth:
Time Left: Was it a true buzzer beater? Did it give the opponent a chance? This is fairly self-explanatory. 15 points.
Reputation: Is the player in question known to make pressure baskets? Have people heard of this player? Ten points.
Defensive Quality: How good of a defensive team was the basket in question made over? How well did that team play defense on that possession? Ten points.
Game Trend: Did it cap off a massive comeback run? Did it stifle a massive comeback run? Did it end blows between two teams tight all game? Ten points.
Stakes: Also pretty self-explanatory. Pressure shots in December don’t count like they do in March. 25 points.
Crowd Presence: It matters. Was it an immense roar? An arena falling silent? Five points.
Total possible: 75 points.
With the rubric set, here’s the anatomy of the Commonwealth Closer:
Time Left: 25.8 seconds. Shot clock turns off, but not close enough to the end to call it a buzzer-beater. Cats still needed a stop, and Houston certainly had an opportunity to recover. 11/15.
Reputation: Tyler “I’m a Bucket” Herro would be the most likely to hit a shot like this. The team’s designated sniper-turned-bucket-getter is the player who wants the ball in his hands for a pressure shot. He missed only his second free throw of the calendar year in this game. He’s not someone you expect to miss when he’s open. A lot of people have heard of this player.
“He didn’t listen to me,” UK head coach John Calipari said after the game. “When he caught it, I said ‘Drive the ball! Drive the ball!’ He shot it, and I said ‘Great shot, Tyler.'" A known assassin defying his coach for a three-point dagger? Come on. 10/10.
Defensive Quality: This is where the Cats earn a lot of their points for this one. Houston is a lockdown defensive team. They allowed opponents to shoot only 27 percent from three this season, and hardly let a quality shooter get free. Herro was fighting to get space all night.
Houston senior Corey Davis Jr. broke down the last defensive assignment for the Cougars, and where it went wrong.
“I think that was when P.J. [Washington] blocked my shot,” Davis said. “They got in transition. They made two of our guys converge on one and Herro was wide open for the three. Even though it was heavily contested. You give a good shooter that type of shot, nine times out of 10 he'll make it.”
So, Houston is a great defensive team. But because of the transition nature of the bucket, it scrambled their ability to play defense. 8/10.
Game Trend: Boy, did this one look hopeless for the Cats. The Cougars took a three-point lead with a minute to play, before a Washington hook shot brought the Cats within one. Even then, the Cats led by as much as 13 in the second half. The Cougars got all the way back in and had all the momentum. This was a shot against momentum, which is a very difficult shot. 9/10.
Stakes: To get into the Elite Eight. Only three higher stakes shots exist in college basketball: To get into the Final Four, to get into the National Championship, and to win the whole thing. Fourth on the season ladder isn’t bad at all. 22/25.
Crowd Presence: Herro sucked the air out of half of the building, and invigorated the other half. The noise of the crowd was surprisingly 50-50 (most neutral-site crowds are dominated by the Cats), and the Houston side had been going nuts as the Cougars were hitting circus shots. The fans in red were teeming with energy while the Cougars made their run, and Washington’s block started to quiet them. Herro’s cold-blooded triple completely silenced them. Everything felt like confusion and panic, from every person in the arena. He hit that? Kentucky is WINNING now? 4/5.
Total score: 64/75. As far as game-winners go, it was a strong B. Herro will be remembered forever if Kentucky goes on to compete for the whole thing.
Kentucky will survive and advance to Auburn on Sunday.