AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn became the latest Kentucky opponent to play surprisingly well. Expect more, UK Coach John Calipari said.
"We hear that from every team that we play against," he said after the Cats beat Auburn by a deceptive final score of 68-53 Wednesday night. "Tennessee will play better than they did against Florida."
That was a reference to UK's game Saturday at Tennessee. The Vols beat then No. 13 Florida 67-56 last weekend in Knoxville.
Auburn, which lost by 29 and 30 points in its past two games, led Kentucky with fewer than 11 minutes left. The Cats did not take the lead for good until Marquis Teague's put-back with 8:04 to play.
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"I think we figured some things out tonight," Auburn's second-year coach, Tony Barbee, said. "We found a style I think is going to win for this team."
Auburn slowed the pace, which many UK opponents have tried.
Auburn also beat Kentucky to many of what Calipari calls 50-50 balls.
"For three-fourths of the game," a not-satisfied Barbee said with a hint of disgust. "But that's, obviously, not good enough against a team like Kentucky."
Calipari saluted Barbee, who had the task of rallying a team that got drubbed at Florida State and Vanderbilt in the past week.
"He's not afraid to coach," Calipari said of his former player (at UMass) and assistant coach (Memphis). "He's not afraid to teach. ... He's got a great feel. If he played for a better college coach, he'd be further along."
That was a joke. But Auburn, which competed with zeal, did not take comfort in playing Kentucky close.
"Moral victories only get you so far," center Rob Chubb said. "But it shows the direction we need to be moving."
For the first time this season, leading scorer Doron Lamb came off the bench.
"I need to shake some of these guys up," Calipari said. "I think they need to play better."
Lamb tied Anthony Davis for the team high with 14 points. In UK's past five games, Lamb had made 14 of 33 shots and averaged 10 points.
However, Calipari acknowledged that he's limited in how much he can shake up players by bringing them off the bench.
"The problem is we're playing seven, eight guys," he said.
Barbee also shook up Auburn's lineup. Junior Frankie Sullivan came off the bench for only the second time this season.
Teague 'lost mind'
Inside the first minute of the second half, the referees called freshman Marquis Teague for a flagrant foul. Teague got into an altercation with Auburn guard Varez Ward. "Marquis lost his mind," Calipari said. "What are you doing?"
Teague and all players need to be mindful of team needs, especially in a tense game, Calipari said.
Auburn joined Kansas, Portland and South Carolina as teams that have outrebounded Kentucky this season. Auburn's 35-29 advantage was the largest enjoyed by any UK opponent.
The Tigers' 16 offensive rebounds matched the number grabbed by South Carolina last weekend. Only Penn State (18) and St. John's (17) have grabbed more.
Calipari noted the several shots UK missed around the basket as contributing to the rebound deficit. Barbee mentioned Auburn's use of a 2-3 zone, which left the Cats with several players on the perimeter.
Chubb, a junior from Jeff Sheppard's hometown of Peachtree City, Ga., had surprising success going one on one against Davis in the low post. He scored 10 of his team-high 14 points (and all five of his baskets) in the first half.
Barbee likened Davis to former UMass All-American Marcus Camby: long, lean and an especially good shot blocker when playing help defense. Barbee decided to attack Davis directly with Chubb.
"When playing against a big, physical center, it's hard for him to create space and time that shot," Barbee said of Davis.
Chubb, who is 6-foot-10, gained 20 pounds the last off-season to now weigh 242.
"Why would you double down on Rob?" Barbee said.
Chubb felt more help defense in the second half and scored only four free throws. When asked where Chubb's offense went, Barbee said, "Good question. I'd like to know, too."
Darius Miller hitting a three-pointer at the first-half buzzer was not happenstance, Calipari said.
"Unbelievable execution," the UK coach said. "We've run that, in a scripted way, I guess 50 times (in practice)."
Auburn had its first sellout (9,121) of the season. The Tigers had three sellouts last season: Against UNC-Asheville in the inaugural game of Auburn Arena, Alabama and Mississippi State.