Kentucky 64, Auburn 56: Cats grind out tough road win

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2014 

— With their coaches' history as mentor-student, it figured Kentucky and Auburn might play similarly here Wednesday night. To quote an old Marx Brothers' line, that was too bad for the both of them.

Kentucky and Auburn did not display pretty, must-see basketball. It was a grinding why-did-we-brave-the-weather-to-come-to-this-game affair.

Possession by possession, the teams ground away at each other. UK prevailed 64-56, thus improving to 19-5 overall and 9-2 in the Southeastern Conference.

One scene seemed to symbolize a game that featured plenty of competitive heat, if not hot shooting (neither team made a third of its shots). Midway through the second half, Auburn's medical staff looked like cornermen in a heavyweight title fight as they appeared to work on a cut over Allen Payne's right eye at the end of the team bench.

If only someone mends teams having more turnovers than assists. Auburn had only one assist.

Outside Auburn Arena, the population of southeast Alabama braced for ice overnight. That long ago became the norm this season.

To take a positive outlook, the Cats extended their winning streak in icy conditions to three following victories at Missouri and at home to Ole Miss. UK began the season losing to Baylor and LSU in such games.

Given Auburn Coach Tony Barbee's pre-game emphasis on rebounding, it was fitting that putbacks figured large in Kentucky's victory.

"We definitely have to rebound the ball at a high level to come away with this win," guard KT Harrell said.

Harrell had downplayed UK's size. "Rebounding is really not about how big you are, size or how strong you are," he said. "It's all about mentality. We addressed it (Monday). We changed that mentality. We want to get all the rebounds. Limit their second-chance points, I think we'll come away with that win."

Brave talk. But Kentucky grabbed 22 offensive rebounds.

Andrew Harrison was UK's top scorer with 16 points. Julius Randle added 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Auburn, which fell to 11-11 overall and 3-8 in the SEC, got 26 points from Chris Denson. But Harrell, its other big gun, made only two of 15 shots (zero for seven from three-point range) and failed to reach double-figure points for the first time all season.

Kentucky, which beat Auburn for a 16th straight time, made only 30 percent of its shots in the first half. Yet the Cats led 28-22 at the break.

Defense and free-throw shooting made the difference in the first half.

Kentucky limited Auburn to 30-percent shooting (eight of 26). The Tigers made only one basket in the final 8:23 of the half.

Auburn's only points in that span were two free throws by Harrell. That marked his only two points of the half and threatened to break his streak of scoring at least 11 in every game. Nine times he scored 20 or more.

But UK limited Harrell and Denson — whose combined scoring average is higher than Missouri's dynamic Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson — to three-for-14 shooting and 11 points before halftime. Harrell missed all six of his shots (three from three-point range) in the half.

Kentucky got to the foul line much more often. The Cats made only seven of 13 free throws, which diluted the advantage. Auburn made all five of its free throws.

Offensive rebounding helped Kentucky take the initiative at the start. Second-chance opportunities accounted for UK's first two baskets, which were part of an 18-8 mini run to start the game.

After Auburn closed within 20-18, Kentucky's defense limited Auburn to one-of-11 shooting the rest of the half.

Kentucky made only one of its first nine shots to start the second half. And Kentucky got no points from the paint in the first eight minutes-plus of the second half. That helped Auburn take its first lead. Denson's floater put the Tigers ahead 36-35 with 12:21 left.

That came closely after an exchange that suggested Kentucky was preordained to win. Harrell missed a three, making him zero for seven in field goals (zero for four on threes). Jarrod Polson, who had made two of nine three-point shots in the last eight games, rattled one in to put the Cats ahead 35-31.

But after a television time-out with 11:25 left and with UK behind again, 38-35, the Cats went to Randle, who delivered from the post.

A putback by Dakari Johnson put UK ahead 39-38 with 10:44 left.

The teams traded the lead four times in the next three minutes.

Another putback by Johnson put UK ahead 43-42 and began a 9-0 mini-breakout run.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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