For weeks now, both the Auburn Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats have had February 1st marked on their calendars. The two top-25 basketball teams met late Saturday afternoon in Auburn for a showdown of the Southeastern Conference’s two highest ranked teams.
Unfortunately for Kentucky, celebration was put on hold as Auburn utilized home court and won the decision, 75-66.
After a turnover-heavy first half, Tyrese Maxey nailed a deep three-point shot from the right wing with less than a second left to put Kentucky up 35-34 going into the intermission. Just like the first period, Saturday’s second half was a full slate of punches being thrown by both programs.
Foul trouble, missed free throws, clutch buckets and large momentum swings filled the 20-minute second half. With 3:36 left, Ashton Hagans picked up his fifth foul on a novice attempt to steal a transition pass. Though Auburn split the pair of free throws, the Tigers still managed to not just take a 63-60 lead but also swung momentum fully in their favor.
While late points by Immanuel Quickley and Maxey brought Kentucky back into contention, it wasn’t quite enough. As the team’s leading scorer with 23 points, Quickley fouled out with 54 seconds remaining and his team’s hope of a late run came to an end.
Auburn shot a whopping 44 free throws on Saturday, which of course follows the trend of poor officiating across the collegiate level. However, Kentucky also could have played better in multiple areas to change the game’s outcome.
Saturday’s loss comes as the Wildcats’ fifth this season and second against a SEC opponent. Head coach John Calipari and his team will look to get back on track Tuesday when Kentucky hosts Mississippi State.
Nominating a MVP of a team who lost the game is difficult to do. However, Kentucky wouldn’t have even been in contention for 38 of the 40 minutes on Saturday if it weren’t (again) for Immanuel Quickley. The sophomore guard was only one of three Wildcats to post a positive +/-, with the other two scoring a combined total of six points.
Quickley’s 23 not only tied a game high but also his career high, further solidifying how much the Wildcat has improved over the course of the last year. As he continues to be one of the country’s most efficient free throw shooters, Quickley will certainly get the call every time he steps on the hardwood.