Kentucky basketball experiences deja blue in tough loss at No. 2 Auburn

·4 min read
Alex Slitz/aslitz@herald-leader.com

Deja blue. Or maybe deja boo?

Kentucky’s 80-71 loss at Auburn on Saturday resembled its defeat at LSU 18 days earlier.

Once more TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler were hurt. This helped Auburn rally from 10-point deficits in the first half.

Auburn built its own 10-point leads in the second half, the last at 68-58 going into the final four minutes.

Once more, Kentucky did not stop competing. UK got as close as 68-64 on a corner three by Kellan Grady with 3:19 left.

But Auburn scored on its next three possessions — the second two free throws by Allen Flanigan that made the Tigers 21 of 23 from the line in the second half — to keep Kentucky at bay. For the game, Auburn made 24 of 29 free throws. UK made eight of 10.

Kellan Grady and Wheeler led UK with 17 points each. Oscar Tshiebwe had 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Walker Kessler led Auburn with 19 points. K.D. Johnson added 17 and Jabari Smith had 14.

Kentucky fell to 15-4 overall, 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference and 0-8 in its last eight games against opponents ranked No. 2 in the country. UK’s last victory against a No. 2 team came against Maryland on Dec. 12, 1998.

Auburn, now 18-1 overall and 7-0 in the SEC, won its 15th straight home game. The Tigers put themselves in position for the program’s first No. 1 ranking by the Associated Press.

A competitive game has become routine for Kentucky-Auburn. It was the 11th straight game decided by a single-digit margin. Auburn won for the sixth time in that span.

Worrywarts with a memory might have found the first half troubling.

At Texas A&M on Wednesday, Kentucky used a late rush to reduce a 13-point deficit to five at halftime.

Auburn had the late moment Saturday. UK led by as much as 10 points inside the first eight minutes. The lead was 33-25 going into the final minute, but back-to-back dunks by Kessler reduced Kentucky’s halftime lead to 33-29. That was as close to the lead as Auburn had been since a Wheeler floater put UK ahead 13-7 with 15:31 left.

Another disquieting flashback came with 8:20 left. Washington hit a floater, but came down with his left foot on one of Tshiebwe’s legs.

Washington needed help to leave the court. He was later seen walking, but he did not return to the game.

This game could have brought back memories of Wheeler running blindly into a back pick at LSU, a game Kentucky ultimately lost 65-60. That had been UK’s only loss since the Notre Dame game on Dec. 11.

Transition offense and an advantage in the paint kept Kentucky ahead for 17-plus minutes. UK trailed for only 63 seconds.

The Cats held an 11-0 advantage in fast-break points. Nine of those points contributed to an early 13-7 lead.

UK’s only other fast-break points were memorable. Jacob Toppin made a steal and punctuated a one-man fast-break with a 360-degree spin and dunk with 4:01 left.

Kentucky outscored Auburn 26-18 in the paint. But Kessler’s two late dunks lowered UK’s advantage in the paint and on the scoreboard going into the second half.

With Johnson taking a lead role, Auburn tied it early in the half. After hitting a three-pointer, he made a heavily contested shot in the lane to tie it at 38-38 with 16:11 left. That marked the first time Kentucky had not led since Grady’s three-pointer with 16:22 left in the first half.

Auburn took its first lead since Grady’s three-pointer with 14:50 left. Toppin’s third foul of the game put Jabari Smith on the free-throw line for three shots. He made all three to put Auburn ahead 41-40.

Auburn scored on back-to-back possessions on a layup off an inbounds pass and its first fast-break points: a Devan Cambridge dunk with 13:58 left. That put UK behind 45-40 and prompted a Kentucky timeout.

UK closed within 48-47 on a Wheeler driving layup. But 11 seconds later, Wheeler ran blindly into a back pick set by Kessler. As on the play at LSU, the television analyst — this time Bill Raftery of CBS — said the pick was legal and Tshiebwe should have shouted out a warning to Wheeler.

Next game

Mississippi State at No. 12 Kentucky

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

TV: ESPN

Box score from Kentucky basketball’s 80-71 loss at second-ranked Auburn

First Scouting Report: Is Kentucky primed to earn a payback win over Mississippi St.?

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