John Clay: The SEC road is no place to lollygag

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 12, 2012 

Now they know.

In the SEC, a road trip isn't for stylin'. It isn't for jogging down the floor, or not bothering to block out or for being late to the loose ball.

Auburn might have a smallish arena and an apathetic fan base and inferior talent, but the Tigers were playing in front of a juiced-up home crowd, against the No. 2 team in the country, against Kentucky.

The Tigers came to play.

It took the visiting Cats just more than 30 minutes to finally figure that out.

Once they did, John Calipari's club was fine. Down by two with 10:52 to go, Kentucky outscored the home team by 17 the rest of the way to take home a 68-53 win in front of 9,121 fans in Auburn Arena.

But the hope is the Cats also took home a lesson.

In this so-called football conference, this is what basketball on the road is like.

Deal with it.

Truth be told, Kentucky didn't deal with it all that well.

Blame it on three freshman starters. Blame it on UK overlooking an Auburn team that scored all of 35 points in a 30-point loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Blame it on a schedule that included one true road game through the first 16 games of the season. And that was a loss.

To be sure, give credit to Auburn. Tony Barbee's team beat the Cats to 50-50 balls. The Tigers drove the ball to the basket without fear. They played with a determination to make up for their recent embarrassments.

Consider that Auburn at one point led UK 31-15 on the boards and outrebounded the Cats 35-29 on the night. Auburn had 16 offensive rebounds. Kentucky had 16 defensive rebounds.

"They were outhustling us on the boards," admitted UK center Anthony Davis.

"Our guys fought their tails off," said Barbee.

"We were in them, we were on them," said Auburn center Rob Chubb. "They didn't know how to handle us."

On the other end of the floor, Calipari was coaching his tail off.

He jumped. He screamed. He called multiple timeouts, some punctuated by giving one or the other player the thumb, a signal to go straight to the bench.

As the whistle blew for one second-half timeout, Calipari went from his sideline almost to the other to deliver a message to Doron Lamb.

Another time, freshman point guard Marquis Teague "lost his mind for 20 seconds," according to Calipari, and took a shot at an Auburn player. A freshman. On the road.

"I looked at the staff and said this isn't about Xs and Os boys," said the coach afterward. "We could be going down."

In the final 10 minutes, the message finally clicked. Teague fought hard for a rebound basket to make it 49-47, then scored on a pretty floater in the lane to make it 51-47.

Lamb, who didn't start — "I need to shake some guys up, get them playing better," explained Calipari — nailed a three-pointer.

Darius Miller came off the bench with 3:38 left to bury a quick three.

Then, with 1:30 left, Anthony Davis threw down a jam off a lob to make it 62-51 with an exclamation point.

But don't be fooled.

"This was a two-bucket game," Calipari said.

And Auburn is arguably the weakest team in the conference.

Tennessee isn't the Tennessee of the past few years, but the Vols play hard under new coach Cuonzo Martin and Thompson-Boling will be ready come Saturday.

Down the treacherous road there are trips to Gainesville and Starkville and Baton Rouge and Nashville.

"They're all going to be like this," Calipari said. "I might as well accept it."

They don't have to be.

Not if the Cats learned their lesson.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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