The Kentucky Wildcats had to make their second straight road trip as they traveled to Auburn to face a Tiger team ranked in the top-15 and to a place the has given the Cats fits in recent history.
Right from the tip, the game had zero flow to it due to the officiating. Both Kentucky and Auburn suffered from the way the game was being called and the amount of times that they went to the monitor to review a call.
However, Kentucky didn’t get off to the best start offensively as they turned it over 4 times in the first 5 possessions, but they did do a good job defensively and that led to them having an 8-4 advantage at the first media timeout.
Kentucky maintained a slim lead until a three by Auburn with just under 8 minutes left in the half gave the Tigers a 20-18 lead.
Each team battled and exchanged baskets but two free throws by Ashton Hagans with just under 5 minutes to play in the half put Kentucky back on top.
Auburn would score one more basket before the Cats closed the half out on a 9-0 run, including back to back threes by Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro to send the Cats into the break with a 35-27 lead on the road.
The start to the second half was exactly what the doctor ordered, as Kentucky came out and took the 8-point lead and extended it to 16 in two and a half minutes, 45-29.
However, a game against a top-15 opponent on the road is never over, and Auburn came back and cut it to under 10, 48-39, with just under 16 minutes to play.
Kentucky and Auburn would each make runs, but right when the Tigers would cut it to a one possession game, the Cats would answer and push it back out.
With around 2 minutes remaining, Kentucky found themselves up 5 and an absolutely horrible flagrant 1 foul was called on PJ Washington, which allowed Auburn to cut the lead to 3 and get the ball back, making it 78-75.
Kentucky would have a two-point lead before a huge three by Auburn gave them the 80-79 lead with 32 seconds to play. However, Herro got fouled and knocked down both free throws to give the Cats an 81-80 lead.
A missed floater, a free throw by Immanuel Quickley, and a missed half-court shot and Kentucky leaves with a huge 82-80 win on the road.
Thoughts on the game
Keldon Johnson stepped up
Since SEC play has started, Johnson has struggled to say the least and just one game prior didn’t score a single point against Georgia.
However, he stepped up big time in this one.
Johnson had 20 points and 3 rebounds in this one. He made some big free throws down the stretch and did exactly what this team needs him to do in order to be successful.
Hopefully this is the official end of his slump and he will become what we saw through the first half of the season.
For the first time in school history Kentucky had 2 freshmen (Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson) score at least 20 points in a road game against an opponent ranked in the Top 15 of the AP Poll— Corey Price (@coreyp08) January 20, 2019
Tyler Herro was clutch
One thing we saw in high school and on the road against Louisville is that Herro loves to play in a road environment and quiet the crowd.
In what was the hardest true road game so far this season, Herro went for 20 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal. He also knocked down a huge three with just under 4 minutes to play after Auburn cut the lead to three.
Overall, it was an outstanding performance on the road by the freshman.
Reid Travis put it together
It's no secret that Travis has struggled since SEC play started due to the length and athleticism of the bigs in the conference.
However, in this one he was back to his old ways as he had 17 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and a block. Travis also played pretty good defense on the opposing bigs that Auburn had.
Down the stretch Travis used his strength to overpower Auburn and help keep the game in check.
PJ finding consistency
Washington was one of the more frustrating players on this team because he seemed to disappear a lot and this team needs him every night to be the best they can be.
He showed up against Georgia and he showed up again in this one as he had 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block, doing exactly what this team needs him to do to succeed.
After Georgia, I believed that would get him going and he wouldn’t disappear again. Well, he backed it up and now he needs to continue to build on these performances.
Kentucky controlled the glass
In a game like this where the opponent can light it up from three in a hurry, rebounding is critical to limit the amount of shots they get up.
Kentucky did just that, as they won the battle on the glass 33-26 and had 9 offensive rebounds.
When the Cats rebound like they did in this game, it leads to wins as we have seen against UNC and like we saw in this one.
3-streak lives on
Coming into this game, Ashton Hagans had recorded three or more steals in six-straight games. That’s one of the best stretches of thievery in school history, and it nearly ended Saturday.
As the final seconds ticked off, the final box score indicated Hagans had just one steal. However, a state correction would give him two extra steals. They gave Hagans his seventh straight game with at least three thefts.
Hagans is starting to run away with the SEC Defensive Playoff the Year award. He’s also boosting his NBA stock to the point he could be a first-round pick in June.
Best win of the season
Kentucky has had some nice wins this season, but winning at Auburn is likeliest the best of them all.
Sure, beating a top-15 North Carolina team was nice, but they’ve struggled lately, and that was on a neutral floor. Beating a top-15 team in their own building in the final seconds has a special feel to it.
It’s also going to be one of, if not the best win on Kentucky’s resume come Selection Sunday. Though ideally, this game was a stepping stone for getting bigger wins down the stretch.
Tuesday night the Cats will be back in action as they face Mississippi State. That game will tip at 7:00 PM on ESPN.
Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:
Final Score: No. 12/14 Kentucky 82, No. 14/12 Auburn 80
Team Records and Series Notes
· Kentucky moved to 14-3 overall, 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn is now 13-4, 2-2 in the SEC.
· UK leads the series 93-19, including 31-15 in games played in Auburn, Alabama.
· Today’s meeting was the eighth time that featured both Auburn and Kentucky ranked at the same time. UK is now 7-1 in those games.
· Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats will return home for a two-game home stand, beginning with Tuesday vs. Mississippi State. That game will tip at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
In the First Half
· Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis for the 10th time this season. UK is now 7-3 with that lineup.
· For the first time in four games, the Wildcats got off to an early lead with a 6-2 advantage. Travis earned an “and one” inside amid considerable pressure and Washington followed with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
o Travis had a strong start with five points and three rebounds by the first media timeout, including an old-fashioned 3-point play inside and a dunk before the shot clock expired.
· He picked up his second foul with 8:00 left in the half. He would come back in but only briefly and finished the first half with seven points and six rebounds.
· UK held Auburn to just 3 for its first 15 shots from the field, including just 1 of 9 from 3-point land before Malik Dunbar hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut UK’s lead to 16-15.
o The Tigers would hit their next four 3-point attempts for a 25-22 lead.
· There were six ties and five lead changes in the first half. No team led by more than five points (UK at the 11:19 mark).
· From 5:24 to 1:42 neither team made a field goal.
o The Wildcats held the Tigers without a made shot for the final 5:36 of the first half.
· Highlighted by 3-pointers from Herro and Johnson, UK went on a 9-0 run to take the largest lead of the game for either team, 35-27, at halftime (the total run was 11-0 carried over to the second half).
· Johnson responded wonderfully to his roughest night as a Wildcat earlier in the week when he was shutout in the points’ column at Georgia. He had 11 first-half points.
In the Second Half
· Kentucky opened the second half with the same starting five: Hagans, Herro, Johnson, Washington and Travis.
· UK didn’t let off the gas after the strong end to the first half. The Wildcats raced out of the locker room with a 10-2 run, highlighted by a Johnson “and one” and a 3-pointer from Herro.
o Going back to the second half, it was a 19-2 run. That put Kentucky up 45-29 with 17:37 to play.
· Auburn quickly fought back with an 8-0 run over just 54 seconds to cut UK’s lead to 48-40. After a Washington jumper and an Auburn 3, Johnson hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to quiet a raucous Auburn Arena crowd.
· While Auburn tried to get back into the game with a flurry of second-half 3-pointers (eight in the second half), Kentucky calmly ran its offensive efficiently, making 14 of 21 (66.7 percent) for the half and 16 of 21 (76.2 percent) free throws.
o UK made 10 of its first 12 shots to begin the second half.
· The Tigers went on an 11-0 run over a 2:17 time span to cut Kentucky’s lead to just 66-63 after Kentucky had led by 17 at one point in the second half. Travis ended the run with a two-hand slam and Herro followed with a driving layup as he was fouled.
· With 1:30 to play, Auburn pulled to within two, 79-77, and then on the ensuing possession took the lead, 80-77, on a Jared Harper 3-pointer.
· Herro drove the ball to the right baseline and was fouled. He calmly sank both free throws to put the Cats back up one with 25 seconds to play.
· Harper missed a layup with just under seven seconds to go and Immanuel Quickley corralled the rebound and was promptly fouled. He sunk his first free throw, but missed the second.
· With UK up by two, 82-80, Auburn’s last-second heave was wide left and the Cats hung on for the win.
· UK is in the midst of potentially playing three straight ranked opponents in a row depending on how Monday’s rankings shake out. Should Mississippi State and Kansas remain in the rankings, it will mark the first time Kentucky has played three straight Associated Press Top 25 teams since the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
o It would be the first time in the regular season since the final three games of the 2005-06 regular season.
· Kentucky improved to 3-1 in true road games this season.
o The Wildcats are 4-3 away from Rupp Arena in 2018-19.
· UK is now 247-5 when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest under John Calipari. The Wildcats have led by 10 points or more in a whopping 85.5 percent of Calipari’s 289 wins at Kentucky.
· Kentucky is now 54-27 vs. opponents in the Associated Press Top 25 under Calipari.
o UK is 44-25 under Calipari when both opponents are ranked inside the AP Top 25.
· Saturday marked Kentucky’s first victory vs. a top-15 SEC opponent on the road since March 1, 2006.
o The Wildcats are 6-1 under Calipari when it plays an SEC opponent and both are ranked inside the top 15.
· Kentucky took full advantage of Auburn big man Austin Wiley missing the game with a lower-leg injury. The Wildcats outscored the Tigers 38-24 in the paint.
o UK is now 12-2 this season when outscoring its opponent in the lane.
· The Wildcats also outrebounded and active Auburn team 33-26 to move to 12-2 when outrebounding the competition.
· Auburn made 13 3-pointers. It’s the sixth time UK has allowed 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season.
· Keldon Johnson came back in a big fashion after being shutout earlier in the week at Georgia. He scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
· It was his team-leading 14th time in double figures.
· It’s the seventh time he’s led Kentucky in scoring.
· The 20 points were Johnson’s most since scoring 21 vs. North Carolina on Dec 22.
· Tyler Herro matched Johnson’s output with 20 points, 15 of it coming in the second half.
· After starting 2 of 7 he was sensational down the stretch, making 4 of 5 the rest of the way.
· It’s his third 20-point effort of the season and first since scoring 21 against Texas A&M.
· He also dished out four assists and has four dimes in back-to-back games.
· He has knocked down 17 straight free throws.
· Reid Travis posted 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting and was a perfect 5 for 5 at the free throw line.
· It’s the most points Travis has scored since he scored 20 against North Carolina on Dec. 22.
· He has charted double-figure scoring games 11 times this season and 80 in his career.
· He had a team-high-tying seven rebounds.
· PJ Washington had 13 points, seven rebounds and a pair of assists in another all-around effort.
· It’s the eighth time this season he’s scored in double figures and the 31st time in his career.
· He has six or more rebounds in six of UK’s last seven games.
· He’s led UK in rebounding in a team-high eight games this season.
· Ashton Hagans had six points, a game-high six assists and a career-high seven rebounds.
· His streak of three or more steals stretched to seven games with three more thefts in today’s win. He is already believed to have the record and it’s the most for a Power 5 freshman since Chris Paul had a stretch of 10 straight games with three or more steals in the 2003-04 season.
· He has dished out three or more assists in 11 straight games.
· Calipari is now 289-67 at UK.
· He has a 734-207 all-time on-court record.
· Calipari is now eight wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.
· He improved to 333-102 all-time in conference games, including 125-36 in the SEC.
· Calipari is 10-5 vs. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.
· Calipari is 77-50 all-time when both opponents are ranked inside the AP Top 25, including 46-23 as coach of Kentucky.