Freshman Anthony Davis spearheads a defense that's on pace to be Kentucky's statistical best in more than 50 years.
You have to go back to the 1956-57 season to find a UK defense that limited opponents to a worse shooting percentage than the current 35 percent, which leads the nation.
South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn, whose team lost at Kentucky last weekend, noted Davis as the key.
"In my mind, he is the most important part of what they do defensively," Horn said Monday on a Southeastern Conference teleconference. "He changes everything for their defense, and he changes everything for you offensively."
As the nation's leader in blocks (4.6 per game), Davis allows his teammates to play better defense, Horn said. Kentucky perimeter defenders need not leave their man to cut off a drive to the basket.
"They're not really help-oriented," Horn said. "They're doing a great job of not getting too extended, and being really solid guarding the basketball. And they don't have to give a lot of help because they've got Anthony Davis back there to clean things up."
Opposing teams are less likely to draw a second defender with a drive and then pass to an open teammate. Davis' shot-blocking presence allows his teammates the option of staying with their men.
"It makes for a pretty difficult combination in terms of scoring the basketball," Horn said.
In 1956-57, UK opponents made only 34.1 percent of their shots. The record for futility in shooting is 24.3 percent in 1948-49.
Davis, who needs 10 more blocks to set a UK single-season record, also leads Kentucky in rebounding (10.6 per game) and steals (23).
Numbers aside, UK Coach John Calipari noted an intangible quality Davis brings.
"The biggest thing he does for us is, he just plays," Calipari said. "He's not worried about, 'I got to get the ball' all the time. ... 'I'll do what our team needs me to do to win.' "
Calipari likened him to Marcus Camby, an All-America center who led Massachusetts to the 1996 Final Four.
Kentucky's next opponent, Auburn, made even Vanderbilt's defense look good last weekend. Vandy, which went into the game ranked No. 200 in average points allowed (68.1) and No. 225 in opposition field-goal percentage (43.9), won 65-35.
Auburn hadn't scored so few points since a 79-35 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 5, 1951. The Tigers' 27.3 percent shooting led Coach Tony Barbee to say in his post-game news conference, "How can you win with that?"
Auburn, which trailed at halftime by 34 and 19 points in its last two games, is emotionally vulnerable, Barbee said on the teleconference.
"We've got to get back to playing with some confidence," the Auburn coach said. "Right now, our confidence is a little shaken."
Shot selection wasn't the problem, Barbee said. Shot making was the culprit.
"The last two games, we had as good of looks as we've had all year," he said.
When asked about the deflating nature of missing shots, Barbee said, "It can deflate you. But it can't deflate you on the defensive end. And that's what happened."
The numbers are not reassuring. In the NCAA statistics through games of last weekend, Auburn ranked No. 211 in points (66.2) and No. 164 in shooting (43.8 percent).
"We'll just try to stay positive," Barbee said. "Make sure guys understand it's just one game at a time. ...
"We have to get back to playing with confidence. That's the biggest deal."
Strength of schedule
Auburn brings a 10-5 record into the game. But all 10 of those victories came against opponents with a Ratings Percentage Index outside the top 100, according to Collegerpi.com
Eight of the 10 victories came against opponents with an RPI outside the top 200.
The UK-Auburn game is not a sellout. Auburn had several sellouts last season, the first for its new arena (capacity 9,121).
Tickets are $25 for lower level and $20 for upper level.