Date story was published: Saturday, February 1, 1986
Both coaches agreed: It was a perfect game.
Because Kentucky beat Auburn 81-71, a partisan Rupp Arena crowd of 23,320 was in the mood to agree.
"It was one of the best college basketball games I've been involved in in a long time," said Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton, his team improving to 18-2 overall and 9-1 in the Southeastern Conference. "We played well and Auburn played better tonight than they did in winning at down there (60-56 on Jan. 6)."
Auburn coach Sonny Smith agreed, even though his team fell to 11-7 overall and 6-3 in the SEC.
The Tigers lost, Smith said, because Kentucky "played what I think was a perfect basketball game."
After a series of moves and countermoves, the game boiled down to who could win the final six minutes.
With the score tied at 65-65 and timed called at the 6:04 mark, Kentucky went to its best player: Kenny Walker.
Walker hit four straight free throws, part of a 24-point effort, to push UK to a 69-65 lead.
After Ed Davender drove for a layup off a nifty pass from Cedric Jenkins, UK had a 71-65 lead to protect.
It proved safe because Auburn strayed twice from its logical answer to UK's get-Walker-the-ball strategy: The Tigers did not give the ball to Chuck Person, who also finished with 24 points.
With UK ahead 69-65, freshman Michael Jones underthrew a lob pass to Person. UK intercepted.
Two minutes later, when Kentucky was still ahead by four (73-69), Gerald White launched a shot from the perimeter with plenty of time left on the shot clock to look for Person.
"That was the difference," Smith said.
But in this duel of quality play, no one factor or one play seemed the undeniable difference.
Auburn shot well (63.8 percent). But UK shut down the Tigers' favorite offensive weapon: the transition game.
UK also forced Auburn out of its favorite defense at Rupp (a combination of zones), but the Tigers played an effective man-to-man.
Consequently, no lead was safe because neither side showed signs of crumbling.
The seemingly safest lead belonged to UK, which led 57-44 with 13:21 remaining.
Five minutes later, Auburn was back in the hunt (down 61-58 with 8:29 left), and Sutton couldn't find much to complain about.
"We missed two one-and-ones and that didn't help any," he said. "We didn't take any bad shots, but they made some great shots."
Person brought Auburn back.
His three straight baskets, passed off for another hoop and hit another jumper to keep Auburn from bellying up.
Person's play helped Auburn slowly cut UK's lead to 59-52 with 11 minutes remaining.
When Kentucky scored only one basket in a 6 1/2-minute stretch, Auburn eventually tied the score.
UK's only basket was a post-up by Walker to increase the lead to 63-58 with 8:09 left.
Person's basket cut the lead to 63-61 with 7:12 left.
Jeff Moore's turnaround knotted the score at 63-63 and forced a UK timeout with 6:23 remaining.
Kentucky had Auburn on the ropes in the early moments of the second half.
Riding a burst of intense defensive pressure, the Wildcats rolled up a 55-42 lead with 14 minutes remaining.
A steal and Bennett's hustle sparked the breakaway from a 41-34 halftime edge.
Ed Davender picked off Person's inbounds pass and raced for a layup to put UK up 47-38.
Davender raced for another layup, putting UK ahead 53-42 with 14:03 remaining. He was fouled by Gerald White on the play.
Davender missed the free throw, but Bennett outfought Auburn for the rebound and put it home to put UK ahead 55-42.
A 6-0 run at the final 90 seconds of a seesaw first half gave Kentucky a 41-34 intermission lead.
Walker, forced to the perimeter by Auburn's zone defense, hit the second of two straight 15-footers to start the run.
When Frank Ford was called for an offensive foul for pushing off on a post-up, UK got a chance to expand the lead.
Bennett made both free throws to increase Kentucky's lead to 39-34.
After Chris Morris missed the front end of a one-and-one, Harden hit from the top of the key to set the halftime score.
Harden's shot, two of his 10 first-half points, hit off the back rim and rose a good two feet before settling in the basket.
Auburn had the early momentum in a half of shifting tides.
Using a transition game that Sutton had feared, the Tigers had back-to- back fast-break baskets en route to a 6-2 lead early.
Just when it seemed Auburn might be at its best, Kentucky struck.
Backed by a suddenly involved Rupp crowd, UK went on a 16-3 burst to take a 20-11 lead.
Cedric Jenkins, pressed into service when Bennett suffered an injury to his right hand, sparked the run. Jenkins, who entered the game with 17:23 remaining and Auburn ahead 6-2, got two straight baskets.
The first came on a goaltending call against Chuck Person on a rebound shot. The second was a baseline jumper.
UK went ahead 12-10 when Harden hit the second of two straight baskets.
Ed Davender kept the run going when he tapped the ball away from Person on a weakside defensive move and raced in for a fast-break layup.
After Bennett sandwiched two baskets around a Person free throw, Walker concluded the run with a foul-line jumper.
With UK ahead 20-11, Auburn called time at the 12:34.
Kentucky was still ahead by nine (22-13) when a three-point play by Person got Auburn into sync again.
Person scored on a fast-break layup and was fouled by Jenkins, after UK had failed on two inside shots at the other end.
The three-point play cut Kentucky's lead to 22-18.
Auburn closed to within two at 26-24 at the 6:13 mark when Person concluded a fast break with a slam. It was Person's eighth and ninth points in a four-minute span.
UK was nursing a 35-34 lead when Kentucky got its 6-0 run to end the half.