The outcome looked certain from the very start. Auburn was already much shorter than the team who would be one of the tallest teams in the NBA. Then the news broke that Cinmeon Bowers was out for an unspecified rule violation.
With that, Auburn's tallest starter was shorter than Kentucky's shortest starter. How could the Tigers even begin to think this game could be close?
Someone forgot to tell Auburn's players, though.
Oh, sure, if you just look at the score, it looks bad. Just looking at the score doesn't tell you those bits on the height differential, though. The score doesn't tell you that Auburn was without Bowers and Jordon Granger - suspended due to his ejection on Friday against LSU. It doesn't mention one of Auburn's better defensive players all season has been out for weeks in Tahj Shamsid-Deen. That one of Auburn's key big men, Matthew Atewe, never played past the exhibition game before the season started.
Four players who were expected to be starters or first-up players off the bench. Would those four players have made a difference? Who knows. Without them, though, Auburn still fought like they expected to have a chance to be in it even to the end.
Kentucky had the game in hand early, that much was clear. But Bruce Pearl's Tigers fought hard until the very end. They were not going to let Kentucky just cruise through the game without having to earn a little bit of it. Similar to the first game, Kentucky jumped out to a big half time lead, but they didn't increase that lead very much over the course of the second half as Auburn clung on as hard as they could.
Malcolm Canada scored a career high against the Wildcats, today. He played out of his mind, just as he did yesterday, against LSU. Antoine Mason had his best game since the last time Auburn played Kentucky.
Antoine, KT, KC, Malcolm, what a season. You guys gave us one hell of a run through this tournament. This is not where we eulogize this team, though. They deserve much more than this, and they'll get it.
The future is bright. We'll always remember these guys for the heart they showed and the fact that they never quit. Even when it was clear they weren't going to win, they played hard.
Technically we don't know if the season is over, yet. Auburn COULD get invited to the CBI - you don't have to have a .500 or better record to go to that. We'll find out more on that, tomorrow.
Regardless, these Tigers were a joy to watch. I watched more college basketball this season than I have in my entire life to this point. That's the Bruce Pearl Effect. That's the future. I have a feeling runs this deep or further into the SEC Tournament are going to be a regular thing in the coming years.
It's great to be an Auburn Tiger.