For most of the first half, Auburn held with Kentucky. The Tigers had a chance to really swing momentum in their favor when Horace Spencer went to the line late and the Tigers down only two. Kentucky was given a technical foul when a player threw a slight elbow at Bowers on the side of the paint. Spencer drained his two to tie the game, but Kareem Canty missed his two on the Technical. Auburn then squandered the possession and let Kentucky score two more baskets before the half to go in up by five.
Kareem Canty's play was part of the difference in the 1st half. Kentucky double-teamed Auburn's best shooter and would not let him get any good looks at the basket. There were multiple times Auburn was forced to throw up a prayer as the shot clock was expiring. Still, though, Auburn was in it. Without the best shooter on the team, others stepped up. Tyler Harris drained two three pointers. TJ Lang had two of his own.
The usual problems plagued Auburn, though. There were sloppy turnovers. There was failure to contest underneath the basket. Allowing Kentucky players to get free and shoot uncontested. It was still only a five point lead for the Wildcats at the half.
In the second half, Kentucky came out and scored a quick five more to take a 10 point lead. With 15 minutes to play they'd opened it up to 12. Auburn brought it back qucikly, though, with a Bowers drive and a downtown Bryce Brown three to cut it to seven. The Tigers were not going away quietly, even as Kentucky tried to stretch it. A Kareem Canty 3 and a Bowers coast-to-coast drive cut it down to three, but Kentucky quickly got back to five with just under 12 minutes to play.
Things continued swinging Auburn's way. Kareem Canty started to get hot and nailed a three with just under 10 to play that put the Tigers back in the lead 53-51. Auburn was able to stretch it to five at one point, but Kentucky wouldn't let the game get out of hand even as Auburn Arena was rocking. They took the lead back with 6:40 to play.
For the final minutes, the lead swapped back and forth. Auburn would stretch it to four, Kentucky would tie it. Spencer continued making blocks. Kareem Canty drained threes. It was about as exciting a bit of Auburn basketball as I've seen since the SEC Tournament run last March.
In the final minute thirty, Auburn took over. Kareem Canty played hard even on a bum ankle. The defense forced bad shots. Auburn stretched the lead to 7 before Kentucky drained a three with 11.6 to play to cut it to four. The Tigers would not be denied, though. For the first time in 15 years, Auburn took down the Juggernaut that is Kentucky and you weren't going to keep them off the court, tonight.
Oh, and they did it with former head coach and current Kentucky assistant Tony Barbee "off recruiting" and not in the Arena.
Notes From The Game
1) Refs let them play. With 12 minutes to play, Auburn didn't have a single player with more than 2 fouls. Kentucky only had two with three. In a year that's seen fouls called on the slightest bumps, it was a lot of fun to watch a game where the game was allowed to move. I'd like to think both teams were playing cleaner, but I saw a lot of things that would have been whistled early on this year.
2) Horace Spencer is something special. He blocked two more three pointers in this game and a number of other two pointers. And he did it without fouling. He's a lot of fun to watch right now and I can't wait to see him as he matures and locks his game down. This was by far the best game of his young career.
3) Kareem Canty is special. Even with an extremely sore ankle, Canty drained the and-1 for the lead, late. He played the final 1:30 in obvious pain. He hit key shots when they were needed. He is the heart and soul of this team.
4) Amazing TEAM performance. So few scholarship bench players available, yet they still played hard for every minute. Every player gave every bit of everything they had, and it worked. Even with some mistakes, they played above their heads and out of their minds. This is the type of win that could catapult the Tigers forward for the rest of the season.
4) The environment of Auburn Arena was rocking. Kentucky fans were in a group in Auburn's student section, but this was different from past games where there was more Wildcat Blue in our place than there was Auburn Orange. Tigers fans showed up and were LOUD. That's the type of environment than can really help propel the Tigers in the future. Oh, and I bet the football recruits there loved it, too.