AUBURN, Ala. — On a night in which everything about Auburn basketball’s game against Kentucky seemed backwards, the No. 10 Tigers’ offensive start fit the theme perfectly.
Auburn missed its first nine 3-pointers and hit only one of its first 15 shots from the floor. But shooters shoot — and the Tigers’ cold spell couldn’t last long.
Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team snapped out of it with a 12-2 run, and it pulled away in a similar fashion in the second half of a 76-66 win over John Calipari’s unranked Kentucky team Wednesday night.
Bryce Brown, playing through a shoulder injury, led the way with 18 points. He was one of four Tigers in double figures — Jared Harper, Anfernee McLemore and Mustapha Heron all carried the team at points in the game.
With the win, Auburn improved to 23-3 on the season and maintained its multi-game lead on top of the SEC standings. Here are the three quick takeaways from the Tigers’ win in Auburn.
When in doubt, keep shooting
Auburn started the game with a full-blown version of its signature style — spreading the floor and putting up 3-pointers. Even though the earliest shots weren’t the prettiest in the flow of the offense, Auburn eventually got cleaner looks. But the misses continued to pile up, and driving to the basket against Kentucky’s elite wingspan didn’t result in much success, either.
The Tigers didn’t go away from what got them to the top of the SEC, though. After missing their first nine 3-pointers, they hit five of their next six. Four different Tigers ended the first half with buckets from beyond the arc.
With Kentucky struggling as a team this season from deep, outside of the excellent Kevin Knox, Auburn was back in control in no time. Those makes continued after a cold spell in the second half, which put distance between the Tigers and the Wildcats for another memorable win in Auburn Arena.
Take care of the ball, and it’ll take care of you
So how did Auburn stay within arm’s reach of Kentucky during the offensive struggle? The Wildcats never led by more than six points, and a lot of that had to do with their defense. Kentucky turned the ball over eight times within the first nine minutes of the contest.
Auburn only had one turnover in the first half, which was an impressive mark, considering Kentucky’s length and eagerness to run in transition. Harper continued his excellent run as one of the nation’s best-performing point guards with 7 assists to just 2 turnovers Wednesday night.
The Tigers only turned the ball over 7 times as a team to Kentucky’s 14. Those extra possessions piled up, especially for a team that did a much better job converting at the free-throw line Wednesday. Auburn did the little things right, and it led to a win.
Balance saves the day once again
Auburn won this game despite the fact Heron was 4 for 14 from the field and Brown was playing through a banged-up shoulder. (The junior guard wore a brace on it for the entire contest.) Harper picked them up early, and six players finished with at least five points. McLemore, who has mostly been used for his defense and rebounding, had a pair of strong alley-oops in the second half to bring Auburn back.
That’s been a huge key to Auburn’s success this season. Opposing teams can’t take out just one or even two players from Auburn’s offense and expect to shut the Tigers down. Every player in the rotation, except for Horace Spencer, can shoot from outside. That was crucial in a game against a much taller Kentucky squad.
While this is Kentucky’s worst team in a while — none under Calipari have lost four straight until Wednesday night — Auburn proved it could take down a blue blood without playing its best basketball. That will be important come tournament time.
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