Confident Cats blast Auburn
Published 11:34 am Monday, February 27, 2023
Kentucky is on a roll at the right time.
The Wildcats (20-9, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) moved one step closer to securing a double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament with an easy 86-54 win over Auburn Saturday.
Despite Auburn winning of the past six games against Kentucky, the hosts handed the Tigers their 20th consecutive setback in Lexington.
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Kentucky hasn’t lost since dropping back-to-back to Arkansas and Georgia earlier this month and used a big second half to dispose of the struggling Tigers.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said his team is starting to regain their confidence and it showed Saturday, securing their third four-game winning streak of the season.
“Individual confidence (this time of the year) can really grow,” Calipari said. “You do it in practice, you get into the game and perform and you have a ball playing, but the biggest thing is, you’ve got to trust all of your teammates. And they’re on the same page, so you can be a risk-taker, make some plays and be aggressive, because your teammates are behind you. They also know and trust that whatever the game plan is, everybody is locked in. Our shootarounds right now are 30 minutes — they’re locked in.”
Four of Kentucky’s five starters finished in double figures, paced by Oscar Tshiebwe, who produced a double-double with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Although Tshiebwe led the way, a sharp-shooting performance by guard Antonio Reeves to open the second half help set the tone for the dominating performance in the second half.
Reeves tallied 18 points in the final 20 minutes and drained four 3-pointers, including two in back-to-back fashion. Reeves scored 13 of Kentucky’s first 19 points to open the second half.
“Everybody was connected offensively and defensively,” Reeves said. “Everybody had to figure out what their role is and getting connected with one another. You can just tell out there it’s totally different and this is what it’s all about.”
Overall, Kentucky made eight 3-pointers, which Calipari said was a difference in his team’s ability to outrun the Tigers, especially in the second half.
“The difference for us, we made threes,” Calipari said. “When we make threes, we can stretch things out a little bit and we made threes today.”
Cason Wallace added 19 points, while Jacob Toppin continued his string of double-double performances with 13 points and 12 rebounds,. Toppin has scored double figures in 12 straight games.
Kentucky turned in its best defensive performance of the season and limited the Tigers (19-10, 9-7) to just eight field goals in the second half. Auburn tallied four of those field goals in the final two minutes.
“I’ve come in here before and got smacked like that and it’s embarrassing,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “You know good basketball and you know really bad basketball. … we just didn’t stay together. Auburn was not competitive at all today.”
Kentucky senior guard CJ Fredrick returned to the lineup after missing the previous four games because of a rib injury. Fredrick didn’t score and had one assist in six minutes on the court.
“Having CJ back gave us minutes,” Calipari said. “You may look and say, ‘he only played six minutes,’ but that’s a lot of minutes for someone who is playing 40 minutes.”
Sahvir Wheeler missed his sixth straight game because of an ankle injury and remains day-to-day.