Date: Saturday February 29th
Opponent: #8 Kentucky Wildcats
Location: Rupp Arena - Lexington, Kentucky
Network: CBS, Auburn Radio Network
Over the last 3 seasons, Bruce Pearl has talked a lot about making history.
Two years ago:
- Auburn won their first SEC Regular Season Championship since 1998-1999.
- Won in Starkville for the first time since 2009
- Ended a 10 game losing streak against Ole Miss
- Entered the Top 25 for the first time since 2003
- Made their 1st NCAA Tournament since 2003
- Swept BOTH Georgia and Alabama for the first time since the 1966-1967 season
- Auburn won their first SEC Tournament since 1985
- Made the program’s 1st Final Four beating...… Kentucky
Which leads me to today: what is on the line today?
For starters, Kentucky leads Auburn by 2 games and would clinch the SEC Regular Season Title with a win over Auburn today. But here’s some other things to take into consideration:
- Today is Auburn’s 50th trip to Rupp Arena: they are 2-47 all-time.
- The last time Auburn won at Rupp Arena? January 9th, 1988 when Auburn beat then #1 Kentucky 53-52 on a 3-pointer by John Caylor with 10 seconds left.
- The only other win for Auburn at Rupp Arena was January 15, 1983 when the Tigers were led by a sophomore named Charles Barkley.
- Auburn has never beaten Kentucky 3 times in a row. A win today would change that.
- Auburn is 4-5 against Kentucky since Bruce Pearl took over at Auburn.
So you get it, Auburn has a lot of things going against them coming into today’s matchup but let’s take a look back at what happened in Auburn 4 weeks ago:
Recapping the First Matchup
Auburn defeated Kentucky 75-66 in front of College Gameday and a raucous Auburn Arena. The Tigers shot 44 free throws and Isaac Okoro made some big shots coming down the stretch. There is no way Auburn will shoot 44 free throws today, in fact, I’ll be shocked if they shoot half of that. Samir Doughty led the way with 23 points and was 14-15 from the free throw line. Isaac Okoro had 14 points, Austin Wiley had another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Danjel Purifoy had a trio of triples on his way to scoring 11 for Auburn that day. As a team, Auburn shot 6-23 from 3 and won despite going just 18-51 from the field.
For Kentucky, the Cats were led by Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey as the 2 combined for 45 of Kentucky’s 66 points. Quickley, who had 23 in Auburn, has been on a tear lately and has emerged as Kentucky’s leading scorer at 16.2 PPG. He is a 43% 3-point shooter and is coming off a career high 30 point night and 8 3-pointers at Texas A&M Tuesday night. He is also an excellent free throw shooter averaging 91.5% from the line on the year. In his last 8 games, beginning with the Auburn game February 1st, Immanuel is averaging 21.8 PPG and is 14-22 from 3 in his last 3 games. Auburn has had trouble at times defending the perimeter and that’s why Quickley is the Wildcat I fear the most today.
Maxey had 22 points in the first game and is averaging 13.9 PPG this year, as is Nick Richards who struggled in Auburn Arena scoring just 7 points. Richards has had a great junior season but his scoring is down the last 2 games, combining for just 10 points but after the first matchup, I expect Richards to have a much better game this time around. Ashton Hagans got into foul trouble and never got into a rhythm 4 weeks ago fouling out with just 5 points and committed 6 turnovers. Hagans is the one who said they didn’t Auburn seriously enough last March and after what happened in Kansas City and Auburn the last 12 months, he’ll certainly take them seriously today, right?
Keys for Auburn Today
As Auburn goes into today’s matchup, it was great to see Isaac Okoro back on the floor Tuesday night after missing 3 games with a hamstring injury. Okoro scored 10 minutes in 27 minutes of action and played significantly more than what was planned for him. Auburn clearly missed his presence on both sides of the floor and as a team, they held Ole Miss to 58 points Tuesday night. As Auburn heads into this game, it was huge to get him back on the court and work the rust off.
Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore did an outstanding job of shutting down Nick Richards in Game 1. They have to do that today to have a shot.
It will be interesting to see the role Jaylin Williams plays in this game as his playing time and contributions have increased dramatically in the last 3 games. How he fits into the rotation as the Tigers continue to get Okoro back into the lineup will be interesting to watch. Williams isn’t the only bench players whose role has increased lately as Devan Cambridge has played well lately as well, but most of that has been at home. Auburn needs contributions from everyone to give themselves a chance today.
Kentucky needs no extra motivation for this game and last year, they embarrassed Auburn in Rupp 80-53. That would of course be Auburn’s last loss until getting to Minneapolis.
Auburn has struggled away from home and in order to win today, they (to quote Bruce Pearl) have to “play out of their minds.” I think last year many Auburn fans went into this game optimistic that the Tigers had a shot to win in Lexington and instead were extremely disappointed. I know I was.
Throughout the year, I have picked Auburn to win almost every game, if not every game this year which I have previewed. Today I just have a hard time seeing Auburn getting the job done. Anything’s possible and the recent success against Kentucky will give this group confidence but Auburn is going to need to make perimeter shots and convert their opportunities, when they get them, at the free throw line. Even then, I’m not sure it will be enough.