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Auburn at #4 Kentucky Game Preview and Open Thread

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A daunting task and environment awaits Auburn today!

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday February 23rd

Opponent: #4 Kentucky Wildcats - 22-4 (11-2)

Location: Rupp Arena - Lexington, Kentucky

Time: 12:30PM

Network: CBS, Auburn Radio Network

Today, Auburn will look to do something they haven’t done in my lifetime and that’s win a game at Rupp Arena. The last Auburn win at Rupp Arena you ask?

January 9, 1988.

To do the math, it’s been 31 years since Auburn has won at Rupp Arena. John Caylor hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to beat #1 Kentucky 53-52. Auburn has lost their last 16 times there since that fateful day.

Despite this writer’s best efforts, I couldn’t find the video of it but I did find a quote from then Auburn coach Sonny Smith calling that game “one of our greatest victories.”

Imagine how great of a victory it would be if Auburn pulled this one out today.

Get to (Re)-Know Kentucky...

The Wildcats have been on a tear throughout the majority of SEC play and that run really kicked into high gear when they came into Auburn on January 19th and won 82-80. That game clearly took something out of Auburn as the Tigers lost their next 2 games as well. While Auburn was missing their big man, Austin Wiley, in the first matchup, Kentucky will be missing one of their key players in this matchup as Reid Travis sprained his knee Tuesday night at Missouri and has already been ruled out for today’s game. Travis scored his SEC best 17 points and had 7 rebounds in the first game against Auburn.

But before you have any pity on the Cats, just remember Auburn still has to deal with P.J. Washington, E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards in the paint.

Washington (#25) has been a monster in conference play as he’s now leading the team averaging 14.9 points and 8 rebounds a game. He’s been in double figures 11 straight games, scored 15+ in his last 9 and 20+ in 7 of those 11 games. In this 11 game stretch, he’s averaging 19 points a game. One of people’s biggest gripe about Washington in the 2 years he’s been in Lexington was that he hasn’t always been engaged in games. That's not an issue anymore and it’s scary for the rest of the SEC. He’s definitely looking like a potential lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Washington scored 13 points and had 7 rebounds in the first matchup with Auburn.

Keldon Johnson (#3) had his highest scoring output in SEC play with 20 points against the Tigers on January 19th. He’s second on the team averaging 13.8 points a game. He had just 5 points against Missouri Tuesday night but Johnson’s a scorer and Auburn has to do a better job containing him this time around.

The same can be said for Tyler Herro (#14) who averages 13.5 points a game. Herro hit several “quiet the crowd” shots in the first matchup when Auburn was making their comeback from a 17 point deficit. He also scored 20 points in the teams first meeting.

Point guard (#2) Ashton Hagans had 6 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in the first game against Auburn and his best offensive game of February scoring 12 against Missouri Tuesday night. Hagans is also one of Kentucky’s best defenders and the matchup between him and Jared Harper will be a fascinating one to watch.

Finally, more eyes will be on the guys taking Reid Travis minutes, Nick Richards (#4) and EJ Montgomery (#23). Richards had the better performance after Travis injury and each guy averages about 4 points a game but Coach Cal is going to need more out of these two guys today.

What to Look for from Auburn...

If Auburn plays the way they did in the first half on both sides of the floor against Arkansas today, this game could be really good. As I mentioned on Wednesday, Auburn pretty much knows what they’re getting from the Big 3 but need a 4th person to step up and score. Insert Anfernee McLemore. McLemore had one of his better games in weeks scoring 13 points along with 6 rebounds Wednesday. If he could be more consistent for Auburn, that would pay huge dividends.

Malik Dunbar started his 1st game of the season on Wednesday and the Tigers came out with a lot of energy and firepower from 3 allowing Auburn to put away the Razorbacks early. Dunbar scored all of his 8 points early on a pair of 3s and an alley-oop dunk. I think the change was a boost this Tigers team needed and seeing Samir Doughty play well coming off the bench for the first time was a welcome sight as well. It sounds like Bruce will stick with Wednesday’s Starting 5 today but we’ll have to wait and see come game time.

Bryce Brown scored 28 points in the first matchup with Kentucky and he’s going to need to do that or close to that again this afternoon. Brown has a chance to join some exclusive company on Saturday:

Career SEC All-Time 3-Point Shooters

  1. Chris Lofton (Tennessee) 2005-2008: 431
  2. Shan Foster (Vanderbilt) 2005-2008: 367
  3. Pat Bradley (Arkansas) 1996-1999: 366
  4. Allan Houston (Tennessee) 1990-1993: 346
  5. Chris Warren (Ole Miss) 2008-2011: 334
  6. Kenny Boynton (Florida) 2010-2013: 333
  7. Bryce Brown (Auburn) 2016-2019: 331

Bryce is 4 3-pointers away from being in the Top 5 all-time in SEC 3-point shooters. I think he’ll get to at least 4th and depending on how Auburn plays down the stretch, I think he can make a run at 2nd on that list. The Tigers have at least 7 games left so he would have to average a little over 5 a game to make it there.

Chuma Okeke has been playing much better lately for Auburn. The Tigers are gonna need him to make 2-3 3s tomorrow in order to open up the Kentucky defense. Over his last 11 games, Chuma is averaging 13 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. Chuma made 3 3s against Arkansas on Wednesday and the Tigers need that again this afternoon.

My biggest concern for tomorrow despite Travis not being available for Kentucky is rebounding. LSU had 22 offensive rebounds 2 weeks ago and Vanderbilt was +16 on the boards last Saturday. Kentucky is 4th in the country in rebounding margin per game at +9.2 a game. It’s absolutely imperative that Auburn limits Kentucky to as many one-and-dones as possible if they’re going to pull the upset today.

Score Prediction

Here’s the deal. Auburn is the underdog in this game, without a doubt. Nobody (even me) expects the Tigers to win this game. But as we all know about Auburn athletics, isn’t Auburn at their best when everybody doubts them and doesn’t respect them? What we have here today is a phenomenal opportunity. A win at Kentucky would silence any doubts about this team being a NCAA Tournament team (they are even if they lose this game so STOP with the stupid takes). It would also give Auburn a firm Q1 win which they don’t have at the moment. Washington and Florida are both teetering at or around 30 in NET which is why I say Auburn doesn’t have a firm Q1 win. Anyways, Auburn did a much better job rebounding Wednesday night and that will have to continue today if they have a chance. Bryce Brown and/or Jared Harper is going to need to score at least 20 in this one. And while anything is possible today, I said I wasn’t picking Auburn on the road for the rest of the year and I’m sticking to that today.

Kentucky 81 Auburn 72