Auburn guard T.J. Dunans’ big scoring game Saturday continued a familiar pattern for Kentucky opponents.
As Dunans’ explained his career-high 23-point performance, “I had a mismatch the whole game. They put a four-man on me, so I was just trying to do downhill.”
Of course, the “four-man” Dunans spoke of was the forward shared by freshman Wenyen Gabriel and senior Derek Willis.
No serious damage was done this day as Kentucky won 92-72. But Dunans’ play served as a reminder of needed repair work.
“I feel like every game is like that,” Gabriel said. “They try to attack me, now. It’s only making me better. And I think it’s starting to show.”
Gabriel’s contributions neutralized Dunans’. He got Kentucky off to a good start with two early three-pointers, and grabbed 16 rebounds, a career high and the most by a UK player this season.
Gabriel credited increased confidence for his play. But he also spoke of the need to continue improving.
“I’m still working on my defense,” he said. “Working on my shot.”
UK Coach John Calipari spoke of playing guard Mychal Mulder at the four-spot as a counter. Mulder played forward some at Vincennes University.
“I feel teams do attack the four-man a lot,” Mulder said. “It’s a tough position to play because the (opposing) guy is kind of an athletic big man. So I can see why they’d be attacking. That’s just something we have to collectively work on.”
Gabriel, who packs only 213 pounds on a 6-foot-9 frame, is adjusting to a more physical college game. Willis, who has put an emphasis on improving as a defender, played only nine minutes.
Mulder, who is 6-4, acknowledged that he would be at a height disadvantage at forward. He said he would try to front a post man and deny an entry pass.
“If he tries to post me, I have fight,” Mulder said. “I don’t really accept being posted up very often.”
With Auburn staying uncomfortably close heading down the stretch, happy faces returned to Rupp courtesy of a dunk by – believe it or not – Dominque Hawkins. Taking a pass from Monk, he reached high with his right hand and dunked. It was only his second dunk of the season, and fourth of his four-year career. It put UK ahead 75-65 with 6:51 left and made victory seem inevitable.
“Dom doesn’t usually dunk, so it shocked me,” Bam Adebayo said. “I think it shocked everybody because everybody was, like, ‘Dom just dunked?’”
Class of the SEC?
Former Auburn Coach Sonny Smith did not disagree with the suggestion that Kentucky is clearly superior to the rest of the SEC.
Smith, who works as an analyst on radio broadcasts of Auburn games, said Florida and South Carolina might extend UK.
“Those two teams would jump out at me because they’re physically strong enough to play with (Kentucky),” Smith said. “And they’ve got enough experience in returning players.
“Then again, I don’t see anybody else in the league close to beating (UK).”
Gabriel explained why Calipari sent him to the bench at Vanderbilt when he missed a shot in the first half.
“He was mad because I caught the ball, and I looked around first, then took a dribble and went into it,” Gabriel said. “Instead I should have caught the ball and shot.”
Gabriel cited confidence, or a lack thereof, as a reason he hesitated at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
Gabriel shot free and easy against Auburn. His two made three-pointers were a career high.
“I’ll try to build off of that,” Gabriel said.
Too much alike?
The competition between Calipari and Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl dates back to when they were at Memphis and Tennessee.
“I’d like to think that the things he doesn’t like about me are some of the things I don’t like about him,” Pearl said. “But I had great respect for him. I always have.”
A question about what formed the basis of the mutual dislike stumped Calipari.
Kentucky improved its record in Rupp under Calipari to 128-5. … Pearl remained one victory shy of .500 for his career. His record slipped to 499-191.