Yesterday's victory by the Kentucky Wildcats over the Auburn Tigers felt somewhat like a fait accompli, with even the pre-game commentatriat feeling comfortable enough with the probable outcome to pencil Kentucky into the SEC Tournament final today. A big part of that perception was the fact that two of Auburn's starters (and biggest players), Cinmeon Bowers and Jordon Granger were both suspended from the game for various reasons, putting the already size-challenged Tigers in an even deeper hole against the Wildcats. It turned out that they were right, and the game was no contest.
Auburn played as hard as they could, but they were simply out of their depth. Their tallest player at the tip was no bigger than the shortest player fielded by Kentucky, and that kind of summed up the most noticeable disadvantage the Tigers suffered yesterday. Auburn's players did not come to roll over, however, as they all gave the best account of themselves that they could. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't nearly enough. We wish the Tigers well, and expect that they will be much better next season after Bruce Pearl's recruiting brings in some better talent.
As I predicted in the post-game first impressions, Kentucky's rebounding was not nearly as impressive as the size disparity might have suggested. While I would characterize their defensive rebounding of 78% as acceptable, the offensive rebounding percentage of 30% isn't all that impressive. Some of it is doubtless attributable to the relatively high shooting percentage, though.
Kentucky's 1.34 offensive efficiency can only be thought of as outstanding. You don't lose many games with an OE like that.
Defensive efficiency is another matter. After holding the Florida Gators to under 0.9 points per possession, the Wildcats gave up almost 1 p/p to Auburn, a significantly less talented team. The biggest reason the Tigers were that efficient was the high number of fouls committed by UK.
3-point shooting was drop-dead fantastic, both in quantity and quality. If UK can go 7-14 against better opponents, they will stand no better chance than Auburn did.
Kentucky did a good job holding Auburn's 3-point shooting down in the first half, but not so much in the second.
2-point shooting was finally better, but that doesn't mean much, considering Auburn didn't have the size to offer much resistance at the rim.
Free throw shooting was outstanding. If Kentucky can keep putting up 80%+ numbers shooting 25-35 free throws every game, it's going to be very easy to win.
Assists were back to normal in a big way, at 63% of baskets coming off an assist.
Willie Cauley-Stein wins the game ball. WCS did it all yesterday, including scoring, rebounding, and blocking shots. He even got in on the assists, getting 2, and shot his free throws very well. Outstanding game. When we get this from him, Kentucky is well-nigh unbeatable.
Trey Lyles had a great game. I thought he defended much better today despite the size disparity than he did versus the Gators, he shot a high percentage and rebounded pretty well.
Andrew Harrison continues to play well. He shot the ball just so-so, but he led the team well and had a 2-1 assist/turnover ratio.
Karl-Anthony Towns was just so-so. He had some good moments and rebounded well, as well as blocked shots (3), but he had a number of head-scratching fouls that were just crazy dumb. In fact, he fouled out of the game.
Aaron Harrison had yet another solid game doing exactly what he was supposed to do; score. Aaron shot a high percentage from both two and three, made all his free throws.
Devin Booker got his shooting eye back in this game, shooting a high percentage from everywhere. He was the most efficient guard on the team, and got six rebounds, a high number for him. Good to see him getting back into the groove, and at the best possible time.
Tyler Ulis had a splendid statistical game, including an amazing four rebounds and six assists to only two turnovers. He added two steals, and his defense just keeps getting better.
Dakari Johnson finally showed up, making both his shot attempts. He only had two rebounds in 14 minutes, though, and he's been down in his rebounding numbers lately.
Marcus Lee played well, getting 4 points off two shots to go with three rebounds.
Dominique Hawkins, Derek Wills and E.J. Floreal all played, and Willis in particular made an impact with a rebound and two assists, including a beautiful lob to Marcus Lee for a dunk. Floreal had an opportunity for a highlight-reel dunk that he unfortunately fumbled away in midair.
Tying it all up
Overall, this was a satisfying game that nobody can really complain about. Auburn was undermanned, and Kentucky treated them exactly like they should have. The biggest minor nit was the number of fouls UK allowed Auburn to draw, but much of that was due to the Tigers' aggressiveness. It was good to see the return of high assist rates and good 3-point shooting.
Today's game against the Arkansas Razorbacks for all the SEC Tournament marbles has the makings of a good one. Unlike Auburn, Arkansas is a significantly dangerous team and is actually ranked, the only SEC team other than Kentucky to enjoy that honor at the moment. It seems like the Hawgs wanted this chance at Kentucky, and I am reminded of the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for - you may get it."