I’ll be honest.... I didn’t see that coming.
But perhaps when you haven’t won in a building in 31 years, I probably should have had more realistic expectations.
With Auburn coming into Lexington winners of their last 2 games and the Tigers making 17 3s in their win over Arkansas on Saturday, along with the news that Kentucky would be without Reid Travis, I thought this was a game that Auburn could not only compete, but possibly even win.
That didn’t happen, not even close.
Auburn picked a really bad day to struggle from the field but it certainly didn’t help matters that Kentucky was on fire, particular P.J. Washington, from 3-point range. Kentucky is last in the SEC in 3-pointers made so seeing Washington make his first 3 3-point attempts had to be deflating for Auburn. Speaking of Washington, he made a career high 5 3-pointers yesterday on his way to a game high 24 points and has validated his decision to return to school for another year and improved his NBA Draft stock significantly this year. I know Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are fantastic at Tennessee but to me, Washington is the best player in the conference.
As for Auburn, they shot just 19-58 (32.8%) from the field and 8-27 (29.6%) from 3-point range. Auburn went nearly 12 minutes before making their first 3-pointer, courtesy of Jared Harper.
There aren’t too many positives to take from this game but Chuma Okeke proved he wasn’t afraid of the moment or the environment. Okeke scored an Auburn high 14 points, 11 in the 1st half and was one of the few Auburn players that could score early in the game. Oh and he did this as well...
Chuma Okeke with a RACK ATTACK. pic.twitter.com/rXNdNsp4WA— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 23, 2019
In addition, Anfernee McLemore had his 2nd good game in a row scoring 10 points to go with 8 rebounds for Auburn.
Meanwhile, yesterday was a struggle for Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. After scoring 28 in the first meeting with the Cats, Brown only scored 6 on a pair of 3-pointers. Harper scored 12 for Auburn yesterday but was in single digits before a 3 on Auburn’s last possession of the game.
Auburn trailed 36-17 but went on a 14-2 run over about a 3 minute stretch to cut the deficit to 38-31 with 1:53 left in the first half. At that point, Auburn fans would have been thrilled to go to the locker room down 7 with Kentucky shooting as well as they were. But a couple bad shots later, and a 7-0 Kentucky run to end the half and Auburn found themselves down 45-31 at half.
They couldn’t recover from that.
It took Auburn over 4 minutes to score in the second half and on the play, Austin Wiley looked to re-injure himself after making his only shot of the game and didn’t return to the game. At that point, Auburn was down 23 and it would only get worse from there, trailing by as many as 33 points on their way to a 27 point loss.
Kentucky shot 54.5% from the field including 11-24 (45.8%) from 3-point range. The Cats also outrebounded Auburn 43-24 and allowed Keldon Johnson to nab a career high 17 rebounds. To be fair, I don’t know if anybody could have beaten Kentucky the way they played yesterday.
I know there were a lot of frustrated fans after yesterday’s game but let’s face it, that was always, regardless of how our season went, going to be one of the most difficult games of the season. Also, if you look at what the bubble looks like, Auburn is still an NCAA Tournament team, period. Go at least 2-2 down the stretch here and they should be fine. But here’s a word from our own Son of Crow about some of the reactions we saw from yesterday’s game:
Auburn basketball fans mad that this year’s team isn’t matching or exceeding last year’s success have both diminished how unexpected last year was and how great this year has really been. Congrats dummies, you’ve ruined everything.— Son of Crow (@SonOfCrow2) February 23, 2019
To add a little to this, I know this year’s been tough and not to the expectation that many (including me) had preseason but just imagine how far this program has come since Bruce Pearl arrived on campus. Look at the recruiting class that Auburn has coming in next year. Ultimately, if the Tigers make the Tournament (and they should), it will be one of Auburn’s best teams.
In addition, there’s been a lot made over the lack of Q1 wins Auburn has but they have another on their resume from an unlikely source.
Remember Auburn thoroughly dismantling Texas A&M on the road on January 16th? Well according to the NET rankings, that now constitutes a Q1 win as the Aggies rose from 78 to 68 in the NET following their 87-80 win at Arkansas last night. The Aggies have won 4 of their last 5 and Auburn needs them to keep winning. Same can be said for Florida who sits at 31 in the NET. A home win over a Top 30 NET team qualifies as a Q1 win. Auburn’s best win is still against Washington (29 in the NET). Mississippi State and Tennessee, along with Alabama are 3 more opportunities for Auburn to obtain a Q1 win before entering the SEC Tournament.
So looking ahead, Auburn has to go to Athens to take on Georgia Wednesday evening, a team that’s lost each of its games this week by 1 point. Jared Harper scored 24 points in the game in Athens last year and will look to bounce back from Saturday’s performance. For several guys on the roster, this is their “home” game, playing in their home state, so you know Harper, Bryce Brown, Chuma Okeke, and Anfernee McLemore will have some extra motivation playing in this game. This is a game Auburn HAS to win as the Bulldogs are now 1-13 in SEC play. The season’s not over and we need to stick behind these guys through the ups and downs. War Eagle!