The Auburn Tigers are an undermaned, cobbled-together-at-the-last-minute team who has not been as bad as many expected this season, serving up some upsets against teams that were clearly more talented. But last night against the Kentucky Wildcats, the Tigers were simply overmatched to the extent that they could not stop Kentucky from scoring, and the Wildcats blasted them to the tune of 110-75.
I was impressed with Auburn’s hustle, their fight, and the fact that they never gave up even after getting down 23 points at the half. The Tigers came back in the second half and scored 49 points against Kentucky, an laudable total. But it wasn’t even as many as Kentucky scored, and the deficit swelled to 35 by the end of the game. Auburn put on an impressive display of 3-point shooting in the second half, making 8 of 12 attempts. The Tigers did about all they could do against Kentucky, and it wasn’t nearly enough. The effort was there, though, and that is praiseworthy, and a reflection of the passion of their head coach.
Kentucky displayed a level of offensive execution last night that we haven’t seen all season. It was awesome and overwhelming, and although there are some small criticisms we could make about 3-point defense, I think much of Auburn’s 3-point success was more due to their hot shooting than Kentucky’s poor defense, but I plan to review the tape later today and report back my observations. In the first half, Kentucky’s defense was as impenetrable as ever, although 3-point shooting notwithstanding, it did suffer a bit of inattention in the second.
There is no way to be unhappy about a game where you score 110 points, beat the opponent by 35, and have an offensive efficiency of 1.36. I hope this is an indication that this team is finally getting their offensive stuff together rather than just a pathologically weak opponent defense, but I am not sanguine. Having said that, I’m really happy with that OE.
3-point shooting was … meh. Kentucky can do much better than this.
Kentucky dominated the backboards. 82% defensive rebounding is particularly good, but Auburn is a very poor rebounding team.
These results reflect very accurately, except for the extraordinary offensive efficiency of Kentucky, the strength and weaknesses of these two teams. The Four Factors look almost exactly like they should, except for OE, which is a little high for Kentucky.
Ball movement last night was excellent, as evidenced by the 57% assist rate. As a general proposition, ball movement has been improving over the last five games or so. That’s a very good sign.
Notwithstanding some brilliant individual play, Kentucky’s play as a team on both sides of the ball seems to be getting better. We find it easy to complain about games in which Kentucky doesn’t just maul their opponents, but the truth is, that’s not how it goes game in and game out in college basketball. But for those of us (including yours truly) who love good maulings more than competitive games, this was a sight for sore eyes. I make no secret of the fact that I want to win every game by 100.
Free throw shooting could’ve been better. 70% is a good floor, but UK can do better than this. The guards missed an inordinate amount of free throws last night.
75% on 2-point shots is just staggering.
Turnovers were high, but acceptable. Kentucky should’ve turned Auburn over more, but to be fair, Auburn is not a horrible ballhandling team.
Six block seems low to me. I thought there were more.
Karl-Anthony Towns is quite obviously the winner of the game ball, although he was not without competition. He stuffed the stat sheet in a manner reminiscent of Anthony Davis, shooting a near-perfect 8-9 on field goals, making all his free throws, getting a double-double 19-10, and blocking four shots. Throw 3 assists into the bargain and you have as complete a game as you’re ever going to see.
Andrew Harrison was spectacular, and if he’d shot the ball a bit better, he would’ve won the game ball. 9 (!) assists (and it should’ve been 11) against only 1 turnover is the kind of game you laminate and put up on your wall as a point guard. Andrew missed 3 of 8 free throws — very unusual for him — and shot the ball poorly from 2. And in case you’re wondering, his assist rate has now eclipsed Tyler Ulis, which is entirely unexpected given how things were going as recently as three weeks ago.
Trey Lyles had one of his best games as a Wildcat, and that is reflected in his 24 minutes, which was third highest on the team outside the Harrisons. He could’ve rebounded better, but he was efficient and played really good defense.
Andrew Harrison is struggling from three. He is fully 5.5 points down from last season’s 3-point percentage. Having said that, his midrange game has become very impressive, and he played the best on-ball defense last night that I have ever seen him play. This is what Coach Cal means when he asks, "How do you help your team when you aren’t playing your best?" Aaron is showing how that is done.
Willie Cauley-Stein had another excellent game. He was a perfect 4-4, had 3 assists, a block and 2 steals. He only had 4 rebounds, kind of low for my taste. Willie’s face-up game is becoming deadly, and it’s a joy to watch him play this year. He has improved so much it’s hard to describe.
Devin Booker is still in a bit of an efficiency funk. He didn’t play badly, but he’s still struggling to shoot the ball off the bounce. What I love is his rebounding, which has really picked up lately. He had 4 rebounds in this game, 3 assists and 2 steals, but turned the ball over 4 times.
Marcus Lee played very well, and just keeps getting better and better. To me, he looks very much like WCS did his sophomore season. His perimeter defense is incredible for such a tall player, he has become Kentucky’s best interior passer, and Lee keeps finding ways to score despite his complete lack of a face up game.
Dakari Johnson got out of his funk and just dominated the backboard when he was in the game. 6 rebounds in only 16 minutes is a fine rate, and he made 6-7 shots. Great to see the big guy get back on his game.
Tyler Ulis was his usual unflappable self, and shot the ball pretty well. He had only 2 assists and 2 turnovers, an anomaly for him, but he did a good job despite being hobbled by shinsplints, which are definitely painful (I know, I used to have them a lot.)
Brian Long, Derek Willis, Tod Lanter, Dominique Hawkins and E.J. Floreal all played, and Lanter drained a beautiful three from the right wing. Hawkins managed 2 assists and a rebound.
Tying it all up
This was always a mismatch, and nobody should be surprised that Kentucky won by a fairly lopsided margin in their home arena against one of the weaker teams in the SEC. What was a bit unexpected was the offensive execution, which has been good all year, but took a huge step forward in this game. Obviously, some of it was due to the inefficient defense played by Auburn, but some of it was clearly at a level we really haven’t seen recently, and not only that, it was consistently good throughout the game.
No game is perfect, and this was a game that Auburn did what I thought they had to do to win — hit 10+ 3-point shots. What I reckoned without was a 1.36 offensive efficiency by Kentucky, their 2nd highest of the season, and the eFG% of 69.1 was the highest by Kentucky all year. Combine that with the fastest pace that Kentucky has played all year, and you have some big numbers.
Legitimately, some will object to the fact that UK allowed Auburn an OE of .924, but as I mentioned in the pregame, Auburn is an above-average offensive team and the best 3-point shooting team in the SEC by a fairly wide margin. I think we have to give the Tigers their due on that, but I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks after reviewing the game, which I will do later today.
As of this moment, though, I have no really substantive criticism to offer. Kentucky performed well in all measurables, and the game was a pleasure to watch. I’m sure we won’t get this every game, so for now, the best course of action seems to be a hearty "Well done!" and on to the next contest, which is down Starkville way against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Wednesday.