Orignally published on 2022-01-21 18:40:26 by ukathletics.com
Having faced one tough road environment already this week, No. 12 Kentucky faces an even bigger road challenge on Saturday. The Cats will visit No. 2 Auburn on Saturday afternoon on the plains in a Southeastern Conference showdown.
Kentucky (15-3, 5-1 SEC) got a big road win on Wednesday at Texas A&M. The Cats found themselves down by 13 points in the first half but rallied to cut the deficit to just five at the break. Then in the second half, UK turned up the defense and made a number of clutch plays on offense to win 64-58, handing the Aggies their first SEC loss of the season.
Now, the Cats will face another step up in competition. Auburn is 17-1 on the season and a perfect 6-0 in SEC play. Since falling to UConn in November, the Tigers have won 14 in a row.
UK head coach John Calipari has been very impressed with what he has seen from the Tigers on film.
“They’re (Auburn) a good team,” Calipari said. “I mean, they’re big, their guard play, they shoot it. They do a lot of stuff to get lobs. I started watching tape about a day and a half ago on the plane on the way back from A&M and I was like, ‘Wow.’ So, I hadn’t seen them until I watched this but they’re really good.”
|Kentucky at Auburn|
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Freshman Jabari Smith leads Auburn in scoring at 15.8 points per game. Sophomore guard K.D. Johnson scores 12.8 points per outing, while North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler averages 10.3 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds.
Calipari knows that there will be a lot of attention paid to Saturday’s contest, but he knows that he needs the Cats to keep an even keel.
“Well, anytime you have – you’re in a league and another team is good you know that it is a significant game,” Calipari said. “The problem with us, if we try and make any game bigger than another because every game is a white out, a blue out, a black out. It’s just how it is. So, we’ve got to go into the game knowing that the game that we’re going to play, we respect all of the teams. I mean, Texas A&M was an outstanding team. Sold out. I mean, it was a great crowd, and it was a rock fight. And so, they’re all the same.”
Kentucky continues to do a good job of spreading the wealth among its top six players. Oscar Tshiebwe leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game. He also leads the nation in rebounding at 14.8 per contest. TyTy Washington Jr. scores 14.2 points per game, while Kellan Grady pours in 11.4 points per outing.
Kentucky has faced some challenges so far this season, but Saturday’s game is probably the biggest so far. Calipari is hoping that his team will handle this one just as they would any of the other games on the slate.
Cats Gut Out ‘Ugly Win’ in Hostile Environment
Wednesday night was simply not Kentucky’s night. The Cats struggled all night at Texas A&M. They didn’t shoot well. They didn’t rebound well. They turned the ball over.
But, in the end, the Cats were able to scratch out a 64-58 win in front of the largest crowd to ever see a game at Reed Arena.
“In a close game like this, the environment was crazy,” Toppin said. “For us to stay together when they went on their runs, it’s big. Big time. It just shows the kind of group we are.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari has emphasized the last four minutes of the game to his team, and the Cats came through down the stretch.
“Down the stretch, we definitely made plays that won us the game,” Toppin said. “We definitely played a lot better in the last four minutes. Coach has always emphasized the last four minutes of the game if we’re in a close game situation, how we’re going to finish. And I think we did a pretty well job of finishing the game. We still have some things we need to work on but that’s just a part of basketball. So, we’re going to go back to the drawing board, see what we need to fix and get better at it.”
UK won despite a season-high 17 turnovers and tying a season low by shooting 36.2 percent. Mintz called it what it was.
“I’m just proud of this team, came away with a win, regardless of how ugly that was tonight,” Mintz said. “We won, that’s all that matters.”
Calipari was pleased with how certain players were able to step up to help the Cats get over the hump on Wednesday.
“A couple of guys didn’t play well. That’s OK. You’re not machines, you’re not robots,” Calipari said. “Other guys stepped in and played well. How about Jacob (Toppin) and how he played? How about Lance (Ware)? When Lance went in, when we needed him. And went in and, we ran an offense through him? Unbelievable. Then, what happened with TyTy (Washington Jr.), we were going to him, he turned it over twice. I took him out and said, ‘Hey kid, in a big game, this is who you are? You can’t make a play? You turn it over? You’ve got to prove, in this game, you can make baskets.’ And I stuck him back in and went at him and he made two big hoops. He kind of bowed his neck and I was happy with that.”
Calipari liked that his team showed a lot of fight despite shooting a low percentage.
“Is it 36 percent? That’s even better,” Calipari said. “That means you know you had to fight and you had to guard, you had to rebound or you had no chance of winning.”
The Cats turned up the defense down the stretch. Leading 60-58, UK held TAMU scoreless for the final 2:47 of the game, coveringfive Aggie possessions. Toppin attributed that to one thing.
“Pride. I don’t think we took pride in our defense in the first half,” Toppin said. “We gave up a lot of straight-line drives and had a lot of turnovers that led to layups. The second half, we just brought it all together and played better basketball, to be honest.” It may not have been the prettiest win, but the Cats got it done on the road, facing numerous obstacles, on Wednesday.
MORE GAME NOTES
• 64 points scored is the fewest in a UK victory since a 62-58 win over Houston in the 2019 NCAA Tournament
• Kentucky didn’t get its first lead until nine minutes left (49-48) and the final score was its largest lead of the game
• UK limited TAMU to 39.8% from the field and the Wildcats are 9-0 this season when keeping the opponent at 40% or less
• With TAMU shooting 4.5% from 3-point range (1 of 22), this was Kentucky’s best 3-point field goal percentage defense ever in a game in which the opponent attempted at least 20 3-pointers
• UK trailed by as many as 13 in the first half and rallied to win. It was UK’s largest comeback win since overcoming an 18-point deficit on the road at Florida on March 7, 2020 in the team’s last regular-season game prior to the COVID-19 shutdown
Big-Game Cal, Cats
John Calipari‘s teams aren’t just good against the best teams in the country, they’re great. Not only does Kentucky own a 65-40 record (61.9%) vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams under John Calipari, UK is 7-4 when both teams are ranked in the AP top five.
All-time, Calipari is 13-8 when both teams are ranked in the AP top five. When both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, Calipari’s all-time record is 87-60, including a 56-32 mark at Kentucky. When both are ranked in the top 10 he has a 27-20 record, including 16-13 at UK.
By defeating top-ranked Michigan State to start the 2019-20 season, UK knocked off the No. 1 team in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Kentucky downed Tennessee on Feb. 19, 2019. With the win over MSU to begin 2019-20, the Wildcats have nine victories over the No. 1 team in 25 tries in program history.
Calipari improved to 6-4 vs. the No. 1 team in his career with the win vs. Michigan State, including 3-2 at Kentucky. According to ESPN, Calipari is the only coach with a winning (.600) percentage against No. 1 ranked teams with a minimum of 10 games faced against the No. 1.