Michael Porter stood practically alone near the three-point line. An audible groan filled Rupp Arena as Porter waited to pass.
"He was like," Auburn guard Rasheem Barrett said as he shook his outstretched arms like tree branches in a wind storm. "They don't know they were helping us out," he added of the anxiety emanating from the stands. "But I appreciate it."
Auburn tested Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie's season-long contention that two scorers are sufficient to win.
With several UK players repeatedly passing up shots, old reliables Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson made it irrelevant.
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UK beat Auburn 73-64 Wednesday despite getting little scoring from anyone but the big two.
Meeks poured in 31 points, his sixth game of the season with more than 30. Playing for the first time with only one of his injured fingers taped, Patterson chipped in 21 points and a career-high 18 rebounds.
If hockey's three-stars ritual were in effect, Perry Stevenson would have joined Meeks and Patterson in taking a post-game bow. He scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while also helping to contain Barrett in an important size-versus-quickness matchup.
As a result, UK improved to 15-4 overall and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference despite 22 turnovers (the most for UK since the Indiana game on Dec. 13). With Florida losing at South Carolina, Kentucky became the only unbeaten team in league play.
Auburn fell to 11-7 overall and 1-3 in the SEC despite executing its defensive plan to Coach Jeff Lebo's satisfaction.
"We executed pretty well our game plan," he said.
That plan called for concentrating on Meeks and Patterson — duh — the first and fourth leading scorers among SEC players.
Auburn invited any other UK player to shoot.
"We really wanted to get off pretty much everybody and dare them to shoot," Lebo said before adding, unnecessarily, "besides Meeks. We came off pretty hard the other perimeter players. That bothered them, especially early."
The crowd's audible exasperation when Kentucky players declined to shoot didn't help, Coach Billy Gillispie acknowledged.
"Our crowd's always panicking on that," he said. "If a player is mentally weak, I think it would bother him. I don't think it bothers our guys."
Then Gillispie summed up by diplomatically saying, "Our crowd, as good as they are, can improve in that area."
The first half boiled down to whether Kentucky turnovers would nullify its dominance inside against an Auburn team that started no one taller than 6-foot-7 and only one player taller than 6-5.
UK ruled the boards 23-13 in the first half and 42-22 for the game.
Meanwhile, Auburn had only to guard Patterson and Meeks. Of the other Cats, only freshman Darius Miller showed a willingness to take the initiative. At one point, freshman DeAndre Liggins almost shrugged before launching and missing a three-pointer.
"I tell the guys you don't ever shoot a shot on a second thought," Gillispie said.
Kentucky threatened to blow open the game early in the second half.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Meeks in transition started an 8-0 run that eventually put UK ahead 42-33. That prompted an Auburn time out with 19 minutes left.
After Stevenson's fast-break dunk expanded the lead to 42-33, UK did not score again for more than three minutes.
Back-to-back three-pointers by DeWayne Reed brought Auburn within 46-44. More than 12 minutes remained.
Gillispie tugged on his tie like Rodney Dangerfield to signal a play. Reed foiled the call by stripping Michael Porter of the ball and speeding to a dunk that tied it at 46-46 with 10:18 left.
Another UK turnover enabled Auburn to take the lead. Tay Waller came from behind to strip Patterson of a feed into the post. The Tigers cashed in on freshman Frankie Sullivan's drive.
A Sullivan three-pointer put Auburn ahead 51-48 with 9:08 left.
A fast-break layup by Stevenson — the only UK points not scored by Patterson or Meeks from 18:32 until Stevenson's post-up basket with 2:51 left — started a 12-0 run that put the Cats ahead for good.
After going ahead 51-48, Auburn scored only two more baskets until the final 33 seconds.