After Wednesday’s victory over Kentucky, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said the Cats were “limited in playmakers, and the number of players who can make plays for others.”
UK’s 81-71 victory over Alabama on Saturday seemed to refute that.
Point guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green each got credit for four assists. They had one turnover in a combined 69 minutes of play.
Green’s four assists equaled the most he has had since missing three games because of a back strain. In the previous eight games, he had more turnovers (12) than assists (eight).
He denied that Pearl’s comment had an impact on Saturday’s game.
“No, we weren’t aware of that,” Green said. “Everybody on our team can make plays.”
It takes two to tango, or in this case make a basketball play, Green said. UK’s inconsistent shooting reduces the chances to make plays.
And teammates must be in position to receive passes.
“The wing guys just came to their senses and went backdoor,” Green said. “And they were open.”
Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone for pass-first play at the start. His passes gave Nick Richards dunks on UK’s first two possessions. That combination clicked another for another dunk at the 10:47 mark.
Gilgeous-Alexander had no more than three assists in any of the Cats’ previous eight games.
Green picked up the theme in the second half. His passes from outside the three-point line netted a layup by Hamidou Diallo and a dunk by Jarred Vanderbilt.
“They were very open to getting us baskets …,” Vanderbilt said of the point guards. “They have the layup, they should take it. …
“They made the extra passes,” he said. “The defense sucked in, they kicked it out and we made shots today.”
With the game on the line, Kentucky followed the classic formula: UK went to the low post for baskets and/or free throws.
PJ Washington filled the role.
“It’s very important,” he said of low-post scoring in close games. “It just comes down to confidence, and being able to get to your spots and get to your moves and feel like your shots are going in.”
Kentucky’s losses against Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Auburn meant Calipari experienced his first four-game losing since the 2004-05 season.
His Memphis team lost at Charlotte, to Louisville, at Saint Louis and to Cincinnati that season. Memphis finished with a 22-16 record.
UK avoided saddling Calipari with a third five-game losing streak. His first Massachusetts team (1988-89) lost five in a row: to West Virginia, Penn State, St. Bonaventure, Temple and Duquesne.
His second UMass team (1989-90) lost five straight: to Penn State, Temple, Duquesne, West Virginia and Connecticut.
NCAA bid I
On Friday, Andy Katz of NCAA.com included Kentucky among six SEC teams that have all but clinched NCAA Tournament bids.
“Auburn, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Florida and Kentucky are all in the field and working on seeding,” he wrote. “Yes, Kentucky has lost four in a row but wins over Virginia Tech, Louisville, at West Virginia and even the ones over one-bid league leaders Vermont, East Tennessee State and Harvard (if it wins the Ivy over Penn) are enough for now.”
Katz put Texas A&M and Arkansas on the bubble.
Of Arkansas, which UK plays on Tuesday, Katz wrote that victories over Oklahoma, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma State look good for the Hogs.
But a “brutal” schedule in the final two weeks could doom Arkansas. The Hogs have home games against UK and Auburn, plus road games at Alabama and Missouri.
“Arkansas will likely win enough of these to get in the field,” Katz wrote.
NCAA bid II
Washington suggested that the losing streak sparking doubts about an NCAA Tournament bid fueled UK.
“With us, it took that because I feel we weren’t playing together before that,” he said. “That definitely made us play together. We were hitting shots and playing on the defensive end and playing as a team today.”
How challenging is the competition in the SEC this season?
“It’s tough,” Johnson said on Friday. “That’s why I always thought 13, 14 wins this year in the conference could win the conference. It’s just that tough. You aren’t going 17-1 or 18-0. Not this year.”
Johnson had not changed his mind after Saturday’s game. Of UK’s losing streak, he said, “Those last four losses weren’t against a YMCA team.”
Vanderbilt led UK with nine rebounds. He is UK’s leading rebounder (6.9 per game) despite averaging only the eighth-most minutes (15.1 mpg).
Calipari’s comparison of Vanderbilt to Dennis Rodman seemed a bit of a mystery to Vanderbilt. Rodman retired from the NBA after the 1999-2000 season. Vanderbilt was born on April 3, 1999.
Freshman Jemarl Baker was not on the bench during the game. UK said he was ill, and as a precaution stayed away from Rupp Arena.