The Kentucky Wildcats had their first test without Reid Travis in a rematch with the Auburn Tigers. The Cats took the first matchup 82-80 on January 19th and they backed it up with a dominating win in Rupp Arena.
From the start, it was obvious that the Cats came ready to play. PJ Washington came out of the gate ready to go as he had 11 of the Cat’s first 13 points.
The aggression and readiness that PJ showed was contagious as the rest of the team matched his energy, which made for a fun half of basketball as the Cats led 25-15 with just under 8 minutes left in the half.
That lead would grow to 36-17 before Auburn made a big run to cut the lead to 38-31. From that point, however, the Cats would close the half on a 7-0 run to take a 45-31 lead into the break.
After halftime, it was all Kentucky.
A jumper by Ashton Hagans quickly pushed the lead to 20 just two minutes into the half making it 51-31.
The Cats continued to roll and the lead continued to grow. With just under 12 minutes remaining, the lead had reached 30.
The rest of the way was just about execution and avoiding injuries, which is exactly what the Cats did as they rolled over Auburn for the 80-53 victory.
Thoughts on the game
Johnson crashed the glass
Without Reid Travis, there was some concern about rebounding without him. He does such a good job of getting boards and keeping opponents off the glass.
Someone was going to have to step up, and that person was Keldon Johnson. He didn’t have the best shooting night, as he only had 8 points on 3/8 shooting, but he grabbed 17 rebounds.
Keldon Johnson with a nice dribble drive finish with the left hand. pic.twitter.com/Jp6GOovqIJ— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
He has had big rebounding games this season, but this one was on a whole different level. With Travis out, Johnson is going to play the 4 more and be asked to rebound more from the 3. If he keeps doing it like this, Kentucky will keep playing at a high level even while Travis is out, as we saw in this game.
The rebounding was a complete team effort in this one, however, as the Cats dominated the glass and out-rebounded Auburn 43-24.
PJ continued to dominate
The last 10 games for PJ Washington have been one of the best stretches I’ve seen as he is playing at an extremely high level.
He had 24 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and a block, not to mention he was an impressive 5/8 from three-point land.
PJ Washington is unconscious from downtown. pic.twitter.com/q8H9oq5Bhz— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
PJ Washington with the straight up and down two hand rejection. pic.twitter.com/XlCShho3W7— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
The change PJ has made from his freshman year to his sophomore year is incredible and a perfect example of why it is a good option for players to come back to college to get prepared for the draft. He’s also become one of the best players in college basketball as NCAA Tournament play is inching closer. If he keeps playing like this, the Cats have a great chance of making it to Minneapolis.
Hagans’ jumper is becoming a weapon
Ashton Hagans hasn’t been the best shooter this season, but we have seen him be able to knock down shots at times.
This one was one of those times, as he was 6/8 from the field and 2/4 from three on his way to a 14 point performance. He also had 5 assists, a rebound, and a steal. By being a threat to hit jumpers, it forced Auburn to not pack the paint as much as teams have been doing when Hagans is in, which opens up the offense more for everyone.
Ashton Hagans fakes the pass to the perimeter and leaves the alley oop for Nick Richards to slam. pic.twitter.com/FxKuwdkF0y— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
Oooooh weeeee.— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
Ashton Hagans with the euro step. pic.twitter.com/5LFRGjCVPo
The Hagans we saw in this one is the Hagans we need to make a big run in March. If he starts playing like this consistently, opposing teams are in trouble.
EJ Montgomery stepped up
EJ Montgomery got the start in the absence of Travis and he made a big stride as he had 6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.
EJ Montgomery with his third swat. pic.twitter.com/JdlkK1t9aE— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
EJ Montgomery putback throwdown. pic.twitter.com/eB6aHDoJa4— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
We all knew that either Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery had to step up and in this one, it was EJ. His impact helped limit the Tigers to just 11 two-point shots and Kentucky win the rebounding battle 43-24.
If Kentucky can keep winning without Travis, the extra minutes for both Nick and EJ will be nothing but a positive for this team going forward.
Herro burns Auburn again
So far this season, Tyler’s best games have all been on the road. That included a 20-point outing and the go-ahead free throws in the win at Auburn.
But at times, he has struggled to shoot the ball well at home. In this one, though, he was able to knock down shots as he was 6/12 from the field and 3/6 from three to finish with 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Tyler Herro drains the transition 3. pic.twitter.com/nIFCBzrKl2— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
Tyler Herro loses his man on the stepback midrange. pic.twitter.com/ZqRqQLjmFt— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 23, 2019
This was his highest point total in Rupp since the Jan. 22 win over Mississippi State in which he scored 18.
Even though the NCAA Tournament games are played away from Rupp Arena, it is still good and important to see him having success at home, especially if games are played in essentially a home venue in Louisville.
The Cats will be at home again when the Arkansas Razorbacks come to Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. That game will tip-off at 9:00 pm EST on the SEC Network.
Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky is now 23-4 overall and moves into a three-way tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference with a 12-2 league mark. UK has won 13 of its last 14 games.
- Auburn is now 18-9 overall and 7-7 in league play.
- The 27-point margin of victory is the Wildcat’s biggest vs. Auburn since defeating the Tigers 110-75 during the memorable 2014-15 season.
- Kentucky leads the all-time series 94-19 and has now won two in a row.
- UK leads 48-2 in games played in Lexington.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started the combination of Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and EJ Montgomery for the first time this season.
- It was Montgomery’s second start of the season.
- Washington made three 3-pointers in the first six minutes, putting the Wildcats up 13-6.
- Ahead 25-17, UK went on an 11-0 run – bookended with 3-pointers by Herro – to give the Cats their largest lead of the half at 36-17.
- Auburn quickly replied with a 14-2 spurt to pull within 38-31.
- UK came back with the final seven points of the half, capped by another Herro 3-pointer, to make the score 45-31 at intermission.
- UK made nine 3-pointers – four by Washington and three by Herro – the most 3 in any half since draining 10 in the opening period vs. Tennessee on Feb. 14, 2017.
In the Second Half
- Starting the same lineup, the Wildcats picked up where they left off with an 11-0 run to make it 56-31. Including the end of the first half, UK’s 18-0 run is its longest of the season.
- UK stretched the lead to 33 points at 67-34 with 10:52 remaining.
- Kentucky limited Auburn to a season-low 53 points. Other SEC opponents who were held to a season low, two of which were eclipsed earlier this week:
47 vs. Vanderbilt on Jan. 12 (since eclipsed, VU scored season-low 46 at Tenn. on Feb. 19), 49 at Georgia on Jan. 15, 55 vs. Mississippi State on Jan. 22, 48 vs. South Carolina on Feb. 5, 69 vs. Tennessee on Feb. 16 (since eclipsed, UT scored season-low 58 vs. VU on Feb. 19), and 53 vs. Auburn on Feb. 23
- UK is 72-0 under Coach John Calipari when limiting the opponent to 55 or fewer points, including 8-0 this season.
- Auburn shot 32.8 percent from the field. UK is 177-15 (.922) under Calipari when keeping the opponent at 40 percent or less, including 13-0 this season.
- Kentucky shot 54.5 percent from the field today, the Wildcat’s 11th game this season of shooting at least 50 percent. The Wildcats are 11-0 in those games.
- UK made 11 3-pointers, second most for the Wildcats this season.
- Kentucky won the rebounding battle 43-24 and in points in the paint with 30-22. UK is now 19-2 this season when winning/tying the rebounding and 20-3 when prevailing in the paint.
- Kentucky has won 13 of its last 14 games. During that 14-game span, UK has limited the opponents to 38.0 percent from the field, 31.4 percent from 3-point range and to 60.1 points per game.
- PJ Washington led the way with 24 points, the sixth straight game he has led UK in scoring.
- He made a career-best five 3-pointers.
- It is his 10th 20-point game of the season and his eighth in the last 10 games.
- He is averaging 21.0 points over the last 10 games.
- He has 12 straight games in double figures.
- Keldon Johnson totaled eight points, a career-high 17 rebounds and a career-high five assists.
- Tyler Herro scored 17 points, including 3 of 6 on 3-pointers.
- UK is 14-0 this season when he scores at least 15.
- UK is 7-0 this season when he makes at least three 3-pointers.
- Nick Richards scored four points and grabbed three rebounds.
- UK is 11-0 this season when Richards scores at least four points.
- Ashton Hagans scored 14 points, the most for him since tallying 23 at Georgia on Jan. 15.
- He had shot only 5-27 on 3-point shots coming into this week, but shot 2-4 today and at Missouri on Tuesday as well.
- Making his second start of the season, EJ Montgomery piled up six points and seven rebounds while tying his career best for blocked shots with three rejections.
- Calipari is now 298-68 at UK.
- With the win today, he moves past Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.
- Calipari has a 743-208 all-time on-court record.
- UK is 241-40 vs. unranked competition under Calipari.
- He’s now three wins shorts of win No. 300 at Kentucky.
- Calipari is now 11-2 vs. Auburn all-time.