On Sunday, the Kentucky Wildcats faced off against the Auburn Tigers for a spot in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. This was the third meeting of the season between the two squads, and the Cats came in with a 2-0 record on the season.
Kentucky came out of the gate strong, playing good defense and executing offensively as they jumped out to the quick 9-3 lead.
With 12:13 left in the half, a three by Tyler Herro would extend the lead to double digits, making it 17-7. The Cats were maintaining close to a ten-point lead and were up 30-20. However, a 4-point play by the Tigers sparked a surge and they quickly stormed back to make it a 32-30 game.
As the half was about to end, Ashton Hagans stepped up and drilled a huge three to send the Cats into the break with a 35-30 lead.
In the second half, Auburn came out and took it to the Cats offensively and took a 42-39 lead into the first break. Neither team was going to go away, but with 8 minutes to play, it was the Tigers that held a 54-50 lead.
With the Cats trailing 58-54, a Keldon Johnson jumper and a PJ Washington layup tied the game up 58-58.
With just under a minute left, Cal went to no one else but Washington, and he delivered putting the Cats up 60-58.
However, Auburn would come down and score and this one would head to OT.
Overtime was completely controlled by the Tigers, and the Cats just couldn’t make the plays they needed to, falling short 77-71.
Thoughts on the game
Guard play wasn’t good enough
March is when you need guards that are playing at a high level and know what to do in big moments. Unfortunately, Kentucky did not have that in this one.
Ashton Hagans struggled the entire game and that led to him turning the ball over 7 times. You cannot have that from your point guard and expect to win in the tournament.
On top of that, Tyler Herro picked up two early fouls, which took him out of the first half and then picked up a quick third in the second half. That made it nearly impossible for him to play aggressively on defense, and that is when Bryce Brown for the Tigers started to take over.
Turnovers and missed free throws
It seems like every year when Kentucky gets put out of the tournament, it is because of poor free throw shooting. It was the same this year, except turnovers were added.
As a team, Kentucky was 12/21 (57.1%) from the line, and if they just shoot their season average then that is enough to win it in regulation.
Also, UK had the turnover bug. The Cats turned the ball over 14 times compared to just 9 for Auburn. When you have both of those factors working against you, it is hard to win.
Herro struggled hitting shots
Tyler Herro was the hero on Friday night against Houston, but he struggled from the floor in this one. He was just 3/11 from the field and 1/5 from three. He was impacting the game in a big way on defense until foul trouble messed that up for him.
Overall it was a disappointing game for Herro, and that on top of the other miscues is just too much to overcome.
PJ goes out with a bang
One of the few good things from this game was the performance of PJ. He had 28 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. The only bad side of his game was the fact that he turned it over 5 times, which led to some easy baskets for Auburn.
With PJ most likely headed off to the NBA, we should all be thankful for the two years that he gave us and remember that he left it all on the court.
I feel the worst for Reid Travis
I am absolutely heartbroken for Travis, as he was just one game away from getting to go back home and play in the Final Four. He had a very solid outing with 9 points on 4/5 shooting and 6 rebounds.
I would argue that he should’ve gotten the ball a lot more than he did because he took advantage of his opportunities. It was great to have an older guy with his experience this season, and I am sure everyone enjoyed watching him play.
It was still a good season
Yes, they came up short and yes this is going to sting for a while. However, fans need to understand that this was still a good season that resulted in an Elite 8 appearance.
Not taking advantage of a great opportunity hurts, but I wouldn’t trade this team for any other team, and I wouldn’t want anyone else coaching at this school.
Now, here’s a look at the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky finishes the season 30-7 overall. Auburn is 30-9.
- UK entered the game ranked No. 7 nationally and the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region.
- Auburn entered ranked No. 14/18 nationally and the No. 5 seed in the Midwest.
- Kentucky leads the series 94-20, including two wins by UK during the 2019 regular season. This was the first time the teams have met in the NCAA Tournament.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started the combination of Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery and Reid Travis for the fourth straight game.
- Kentucky jumped out to a 7-0 lead and led by as many as 11 points at 22-11.
- UK led 30-20 with three minutes left but Auburn went on a 10-2 run to narrow the gap to 32-30.
- Hagans hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining to send the Wildcats to the locker room ahead 35-30.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky began the second half with the starting lineup.
- UK scored the first basket of the half but Auburn came back with 10 straight points to go ahead 40-37, the Tigers’ first lead of the game.
- UK reclaimed the lead at 45-44 on a steal by Johnson, leading to a fast-break alley-oop dunk by Washington.
- Auburn went back ahead 47-46 on a 3-pointer by Bryce Brown.
- Trailing 56-50, UK cobbled together an 8-2 run to tie it at 58 with 2:55 remaining.
- Washington rebounded his own miss and scored with 56 seconds left to shove UK back ahead.
- Auburn’s Jared Harper tied it at 60 on a driving layup with 37 seconds left and neither team scored on its final possession to send it to overtime.
In the Overtime
- Kentucky began the overtime with Hagans, Herro, Johnson, Washington and Travis.
- Auburn scored the first four points of overtime and the Tigers never trailed en route to the 77-71 win.
- Auburn shot 40 percent today. UK is 182-16 (.919) under Calipari when keeping the opponents to 40 percent or less, including 18-1 this season.
- Kentucky won the rebounding, 41-37. UK is 25-5 this season when outrebounding the opponent.
- UK is 260-6 (.977) under Calipari when leading by 10 or more points at any time during the game.
- PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson each had a double-double today. The last time UK had two players with double-doubles was the January 19 win over Kansas.
- UK is 7-5 this season vs. Associated Press Top 25 opponents.
- This was Kentucky’s second overtime game of the year, also vs. Seton Hall.
- Playing on a sprained foot, PJ Washington led all players with 28 points and 13 rebounds. He added two steals and two blocked shots.
- It is his ninth double-double of the year and 12th of his career.
- The 28 points is one shy of his career high set earlier this season vs. Seton Hall.
- Keldon Johnson notched his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
- Ashton Hagans reached double figures with 10 points, adding five rebounds and three assists.
- In his final game as a Wildcat, Reid Travis scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and had six rebounds.
- Tyler Herro had seven points, three rebounds and a game-high six assists. The six assists are one shy of his career high set vs. Winthrop.
In the NCAA Tournament
- Kentucky has an all-time record of 129-52 in the NCAA Tournament, more wins than any team in NCAA history.
- UK made its NCAA record 58th appearance in the tournament.
- UK is 25-8 as the No. 2 seed in the tournament. UK is 8-4 vs. No. 5 seeds.
- This was Kentucky’s 10th overtime game in the NCAA Tournament and UK is now 4-6 in OT games.
- UK is 31-8 in the NCAA Tournament under Calipari.
- Calipari is now 305-71 at UK.
- Calipari has a 750-211 all-time on-court record.
- Calipari has a 56-19 record in the NCAA Tournament, including 31-8 at Kentucky.
- Calipari is 6-6 in Elite 8 games, including 4-3 at Kentucky.
- UK is 59-31 vs. AP Top-25 competition under Calipari.
- Calipari is 82-54 in his career when both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, including 51-27 at Kentucky.