AUBURN, Ala. — With Kentucky's lead down to three points and Auburn looking for the equalizer from one of its three-point shooters, DeAndre Liggins came to the rescue.
Liggins prevented the intended shooter, Tay Waller (39.2-percent three-point accuracy this season) from getting the ball. That left Auburn with a more desperate attempt inside the final half-minute as Kentucky won 72-67 on Saturday.
"We were trying to get Tay to come off a screen at the top (of the key)," Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said. " Liggins, he blew right through it. He put his head down and blew it up like a football player."
Liggins saw the play as nothing special.
Never miss a local story.
"That's what I do," he said. "I bring energy off the bench. I knew I had to come through on that play."
Liggins also hit a three-pointer, his first since Dec. 29, when Auburn reduced UK's one-time 19-point lead to 53-52.
"It was an open shot," said Liggins, sounding a bit annoyed that a reporter asked why he took the shot. "Coach wants me to shoot open shots. Don't be timid. I shot it with confidence, and I made it."
UK Coach John Calipari noted that he had to take Liggins out of the game at one juncture because the sophomore did not run the play. In Liggins' defense, he had been playing two-guard and in this instance was at small forward.
"He's coming around," Calipari said. "He's playing the way we want him to play. He's just got to get comfortable."
Freshmen show age
Guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe looked like the freshmen they are at times. Wall equaled a career-high seven turnovers. Bledsoe had three turnovers. Each attempted and missed low-chance shots at the basket that required body contortion.
Calipari saluted Auburn's defensive plan to sag inside, especially in transition.
"When those guys in transition came flying down there, they can throw it to whoever, but they're not going to shoot layups," Calipari said of Auburn's plan. "We kept trying to shoot layups."
Calipari acknowledged Wall forced the action.
"I don't know why," the UK coach said. "That's OK. He's 19. You guys made him out to be ... somebody said he was the best since Michael Jordan.
"Maybe he's trying to live up to that. Don't! Stop! You don't have to live up to that."
Patrick Patterson did not take a shot in the second half. He passed out of the double teams, three times setting up teammates for baskets.
Patterson said teammates Darnell Dodson and Bledsoe reminded him at halftime not to try to score against multiple defenders.
"If they double team, that's what you're supposed to do," Calipari said before changing the subject. "I'd like him to figure out this one: every shot to the rim is a pass to him. Go get it. I'd like him to grab those passes."
Auburn had three more baskets than Kentucky. So Lebo saw free-throw shooting as the difference. UK made 23 of 35 from the line. Auburn made eight of 14.
The Auburn coach did not criticize the referees, even indirectly or slyly.
After calling UK's 27 free throws before intermission "the most I've been involved with in a half," Lebo noted the size and good hands of Kentucky's big men.
"Their hands inside are so strong," he said. "Patterson and (DeMarcus) Cousins have great hands. The ball gets knocked around, and they'd come up with it without bobbling it. And we'd come down on them and foul."
Hoops for Haiti
Calipari used his post-game news conference to plug the 90-minute telethon he's leading on Sunday (noon to 12:30 p.m. on WKYT-27 in Lexington). Proceeds benefit relief efforts in Haiti.
In addition to taking pledges, Calipari said there will be prizes auctioned. Those prizes include a dinner for six with Calipari and his wife, Ellen, that includes a tour of their home. Other prizes for the auction are a day at UK's practice, including a two-on-two game with Tony Delk and Scott Padgett.
Kentucky won a fifth straight game in Auburn. The Tigers last beat UK at home in 2000. Since that time, every other SEC team won at least one home game against the Cats. ... DeMarcus Cousins posted his team-high ninth double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds). He also blocked four shots, one shy of the career high he got against Rider.