The Cats got off to a slow start before a back-and-forth battle ensued. Kentucky went into the break with a 40-37 lead, but it felt like it was much bigger than that.
UK put the game away in the second half, even though it was a little too close for comfort.
Kentucky wins yet another to extend their win streak to eight games now—this time over the No. 15 ranked team in the country. They also clinched the SEC regular season title.
Next up, Kentucky will take on the Tennessee Volunteers on Tuesday night in Lexington for the last home game on the season.
Battle on the boards
The Cats were embarrassed on the glass in Auburn, Alabama a few weeks ago. They weren’t going to let that happen again.
You could tell there was an extra bit of intensity and concerted effort to have a better showing in that area this time around.
They were’t perfect, and Auburn does a good job of crashing the boards, while that’s one of Kentucky’s biggest weaknesses. But when the effort and hustle is there, most deficiencies can be overcome.
Threes vs. twos
These two teams could not have played more differently today. Neither is a good three-point shooting team on the season, but the Tigers lived beyond the arc while the Cats scored the majority of their points either inside the arc or at the free throw line.
Despite this, UK and Auburn went blow for blow. Both teams answered any time the other tried to pull away. Kentucky made up the difference from three-point range at the line, and vice versa.
UK doesn’t have to shoot lights out every game, but they do need to shoot a little better from the outside come NCAA tournament time.
Winning the turnover margin
Kentucky can be careless with the ball at times—see Ashton Hagans—but they markedly improved that today. Auburn turned UK over like crazy the first time these two teams met, especially with the full-court pressure.
However, Hagans struggled and missed a lot of time with foul trouble. Auburn has had his number in career at Kentucky.
This time around, he played and handled the pressure with ease, as did the rest of the Cats, despite not shooting well. With three point guards running the offense, this should be the norm going forward.
Free throws were the difference once again...but not in the same manner
As you may remember, Auburn shot an absurd, SEC season-high 44 free throws last time around. It was insane. Despite shooting 23 threes, Auburn shot 20 more free throws than UK. That was unacceptable.
Without the benefit of the home whistle, the Tigers came crashing back down to earth on Saturday as they jacked shot after shot from deep. On the other hand, Kentucky attacked the basket at will and forced their way to the line.
Let’s call that early February meeting an outlier because I don’t think that’ll happen again this season. And without that, Kentucky would’ve had another big road win.
They got their revenge today, however.
Sestina and Brooks played well
Nate Sestina isn’t perfect and Keion Brooks is still finding his way, but these two gave UK some solid minutes today.
Brooks had a two-minute stretch where we saw his incredibly high floor. He showed off his athleticism and ability to find the ball and hit the boards.
Take a look at this big-time slam.
Do NOT sleep on Keion Brooks Jr.— Big Blue Nation (@BigBlue9ation) February 29, 2020
Sestina, on the other hand, was good for the majority of the game. He made a couple of boneheaded mistakes—like fouling a guy on a three for an and-one—but other than that, he was terrific.
He scored from all three levels, showing off his hook and three-point shot. And of course, he hustled as always.
The bench is important and getting positive minutes out of these guys could be make or break in a few weeks.
Big games from Maxey and Quickley
Tyrese Maxey continued to earn his nickname of big-game Maxey with an excellent all-around performance today. His ability to score around the basket is amazing. And it’s definitely a welcome sight with all the layups that the Cats missed today.
Maxey hit the glass and found his teammates, while defending at a very high level. He played great. But he wasn’t the only one.
Of course, Immanuel Quickley showed up. Despite the shots not falling for the majority of the game, he still finds a way to just fill it up.
He was absolutely money from the line and loves going on mini runs all by himself. But it was more than just the scoring. IQ rebounded at an extremely high rate in a game where UK needed to hit the glass. He actually put up a double-double today.
And with the way he’s able to defend, it’s no wonder the sophomore guard is flying up draft boards. BBN better enjoy these last few weeks of Quickley, because I have a feeling there won’t be a junior season in the books for him.
This was a big win for the Cats right before the next month of madness begins.
There’s only two games left in the season, which has absolutely flown by, and Kentucky is inching closer and closer putting it all together.
Let’s finish out the season strong. Go Cats!