John Clay: Cats feel right at home on the road

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 20, 2013 

AUBURN, Ala. — Really, Auburn, you didn't have to go to all that trouble, holding an Orange-Out, honoring a former hero, bringing back Sir Charles Barkley, packing Auburn Arena to make it a special night.

Kentucky's special night.

As Auburn geared up for a visit from the defending national champs, Kentucky turned it up and turned it on for its best game of the season, certainly its best half of the season, on the way to a convincing 75-53 win.

Yes, a 22-point win just four days after Coach John Calipari said, "I can't see this team being up 20 points on anybody."

Actually, the visiting Cats led by as many as 27.

"We played better than we have played," Calipari said.

No Willie, no problem. Freshman forward and starter Willie Cauley-Stein was left at home after undergoing a "minor" knee procedure on Thursday. It didn't matter.

Nerlens Noel played just 11 minutes in the first half because of two fouls, picked up his third foul on a charge just 13 seconds into the second half. It didn't matter.

Auburn ramped up the expectations by packing the joint, retiring the jersey of the late, great Mike Mitchell before the game, coaxing Barkley back for a visit.

When during pre-game ceremonies, Barkley welcomed the Kentucky fans, Auburn fans booed.

"No, no, no," Barkley admonished the home folks. "We want to welcome them."

Oh, Auburn welcomed the Cats, all right. After making 11 of 25 threes in a double-overtime loss at Arkansas on Wednesday, the Tigers missed all 15 of their three-pointers against Kentucky. Oh-for-15.

It was just the third time in Auburn history, and the first since 1997, the Tigers failed to make at least one shot from beyond the arc.

Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan was second in the SEC in scoring at 17.8 points per game. He had scored 20 or more points in 10 of Auburn's 16 games. He finished this night with 12.

Archie Goodwin had much to do with that, the freshman from Little Rock locking down Sullivan. Auburn's best player did not score a point until the 5:18 mark of the first half. He ended up missing 11 of 16 shots, including all six of his three-point attempts.

"We played scared," Sullivan said. "You can't play that way."

Few opponents have been scared of this Kentucky team, which had lost three games of nine or more points and blew a large lead at Vanderbilt Jan. 10 before pulling out a 60-58 win.

Instead of blowing the lead this time, Kentucky extended the advantage in this particular conference road game.

"When we started playing good down the stretch, we kind of huddled together there and said we needed to start burying teams," said sophomore Kyle Wiltjer, who scored 17 points for the second straight game.

Bury they did. The Cats shot 66.7 percent in the second half. After making just one of 10 threes in the first half, Calipari's club drilled four of five three-pointers in the second.

Noel ended up playing just 25 minutes but had nine rebounds and seven blocked shots. Wiltjer dished five assists to go with his point production. Ryan Harrow had a game-high eight assists.

There were five Cats in double figures.

"That's the way we want to play," Calipari said.

Auburn, not so much.

"I am disappointed," Auburn Coach Tony Barbee said. "I got outcoached. The (players) got outplayed."

By game's end, the disappointed Auburn fans took their high hopes and headed home, leaving a group of excited Kentucky fans who saw the team they had hoped to see.

"Our whole thing is day-to-day," Calipari said. "We've got to build on what we just did here today ... We're just trying to enjoy this one and understand what we did. We made strides."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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