The Kentucky Hoops team traveled to Auburn one win shy of the best start in program history; instead, the No. 7 ranked Wildcats left the Plains with their first loss of the season.
Both teams struggled to score early in the opening quarter, but the play of Kentucky’s inside tandem of Evelyn Akhator and Alexis Jennings buoyed the Wildcats to a 17-7 lead.
Even when Akhator went to the bench due to foul trouble, the margin grew to 30-13 during the second quarter. However, Auburn took advantage of five Kentucky turnovers to trip the halftime deficit to nine points, 32-23.
Turnovers continued to plague the Wildcats in the second half and prevented them from pulling away from the Tigers.
Auburn seized the lead and the momentum early in the fourth quarter. Kentucky pulled within two points on several occasions thanks to the late game heroics of Makayla Epps, who finished with a team-high 20 points, but the Tigers’ Brandy Montgomery had an answer each time and Auburn pulled out a narrow five victory, 66-61.
Akhator and Jennings
Consistent post play is a must for the Wildcats this season and against Auburn, Kentucky’s frontcourt put in a solid effort.
Evelyn Akhator had a monster first quarter with five points, six rebounds and two steals. Foul trouble hampered Akhator’s productivity for the rest of the game. Akhator finished the game with another double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds), but even though she played an excellent game, Akhator needs to stay out of foul trouble. Her ferocious play makes Kentucky a different team when she is on the floor and her teammates struggle when she is on the bench for prolonged periods of time.
When Akhator went to the bench, Alexis Jennings picked up her slack in the second quarter and provided the Wildcats with several quality baskets and rebounds. Jennings posted a double-double as well with ten points and 11 rebounds in spite of fouling out of the game late in the final quarter.
All season long, Matthew Mitchell’s team has suffocated their opponents and that trend continued even in defeat.
Kentucky held Auburn to 39 percent shooting for the game (24-of-61) and shut the Tigers out from the three point line. The Wildcats also forced 23 Auburn turnovers.
At one point this season, Kentucky averaged over 20 turnovers a game but it appeared the team had corrected that problem over the last two games of the non-conference schedule, but against Auburn the issue reared its head again.
Kentucky finished with 26 turnovers for the game and every Wildcat player committed at least one turnover.
Auburn is a team that thrives on creating miscues on defense and Kentucky fell right into their crosshairs. Each giveaway slowly seeped the momentum away from Kentucky late in the game. Taking care of the ball against quality competition is a must and if Kentucky continues to have 20 plus turnover games they will lose winnable games which will hurt their seeding come March.
Five Kentucky players finished the game with three fouls or more and with a short bench foul trouble cannot become a habit, especially in the front court. The Wildcats need either Akhator or Jennings on the floor for most of the game because Batouly Camara nor Alyssa Rice are far from ready to pick up the slack in SEC play.
Kentucky fouls also consistently bailed Auburn out on bad possessions and the Tigers 18-of-24 performance at the free-throw line helped them overcome a rough shooting night