Coming into Saturday’s game, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats were winners of three straight in SEC play. However, their competition had been considered inferior.
On Saturday, though, their efforts were put to the test during their visit to the Auburn Tigers.
After a fairly contested first half of both teams going back-and-forth, Kentucky closed the first period with a 9-0 run to take a 35-27 lead into the locker room.
To start the second half, the Wildcats picked up where they left off by opening with a 10-2 run for a commanding lead. While Auburn battled back, Kentucky’s efforts on the glass and efficiency shooting the basketball held true late in the game.
Trailing by one, Auburn’s Jared Harper missed a running layup with three seconds left, and a rebound by Immanuel Quickley sent the freshman scoring to the free throw line.
Quickley canned one of the two to put his team up 82-80. Auburn then missed a desperation heave at the buzzer, handing Kentucky their 14th win of the season.
Johnson “Wakes Up”
In the beginning minutes of Saturday’s contest, Ashton Hagans had choice words for Keldon Johnson on the fast break. Johnson never looked back for the ball, letting a pass sail pass him and out of bounds.
Johnson didn’t score in Kentucky’s previous outing at Georgia and was held scoreless throughout the first eight minutes of action at Auburn.
However, something lit a fire under, Johnson as he scored 11 points in the first half and 20 for the game. He certainly asserted himself as the team’s go-to scorer, which the Wildcats will desperately need over the next two games.
Herro Slams the Door
He was without a cape but Tyler Herro nonetheless saved the day for his Kentucky Wildcats. After scoring just five points in the first half, the first-year shooting guard erupted for 15 points in the second half to finish with 20 for the game.
When Auburn caught fire from behind the arc, it was Herro taking it to the basket and knocking down shots on Kentucky’s end of offense. Every starter played a sound game, but Herro’s performance ultimately slammed the door shut on an Auburn win.
Travis & Washington Play Big
Like Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis had recently struggled on the offensive end of the basketball. The slight emergence of both EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards had also seen the starting duo’s minutes decrease.
Against the Tigers, though, Travis and Washington weren’t going quietly. Both contributed by playing a big man’s game, with Travis posting 17 points and seven rebounds with Washington going for 13 points and as many boards. The two finding their niche is just what the doctor ordered.
Wildcats Control Painted Area
Kentucky definitely had the “bigger” frontcourt, but the duo of Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke were expected to pump up a decent fight. However, Calipari’s game plan put Auburn’s efforts on hold.
Kentucky went away from the three-point arc and instead attacked the paint early, drawing foul trouble for both McLemore and Okeke. The Wildcats then asserted themselves in the painted area, scoring layups and dominating the boards.
Limited action for the Auburn tandem left Kentucky to splurge on the glass, winning the overall rebounding battle 33-25. They also overwhelmed the Tigers around the rim, outscoring them 38-24 in the paint.
Bench Takes a Backseat
Over the last few weeks, Kentucky’s bench has been the answer for the Wildcats’ offensive droughts. That trend came to an end on Saturday, however, with Immanuel Quickley (five points) and Nick Richards (one point) the only two reserves to swish the net.
Kentucky was able to sustain their lack of production on Saturday, but will certainly need bench production for what lies ahead.
After spending a week playings games on the road, Kentucky will return to Lexington ready to prepare for a home matchup against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Tip-off is set for Tuesday night at 7 pm EST.