Three straight wins seemed like a fantasy for Kentucky a couple weeks ago when the Cats were mired in an eight-game losing streak.
But after figuring a few things out, UK will try to grab its third straight victory on Thursday night against Auburn.
The Tigers will try to steal one — quite literally — in Memorial Coliseum. Auburn leads the Southeastern Conference in steals per game at 14.3.
“Auburn is a team that plays so incredibly hard,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the Tigers, who have collected 285 steals this season. “They’ll pressure you for 40 minutes. So, we’re in for a real battle tomorrow night and huge opportunity for us to see where we are in our effort and our energy because Auburn brings that for 40 minutes and they’re very disruptive.
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“We’ll have some real satisfaction if we can walk off the court and say we played harder than Auburn, because they play so hard.”
Kentucky (11-11, 3-5 SEC) won’t just have to play hard but also play smart, which is something the Cats have been able to do this season, turning it over just 13 times a game on average and 11 times on average in the past six games.
The Tigers have been struggling offensively and are last in the league in scoring at 63.8 points a game. They are in the bottom two in field-goal (39.7) and three-point field goal (25.9) percentages. But they do score 23 points a game off opponents’ miscues, which means UK has to keep taking care of the ball.
“We have tried to stay really focused on what we need to do to improve as a team,” Mitchell said of the Tigers, who have forced at least 20 turnovers in 18 games this season. “We’re certainly not a finished product and there’s a lot to improve.”
Auburn (11-9, 2-6) had lost six straight before beating Alabama on Sunday.
News and notes
Freshman forward Tatyana Wyatt has been cleared to practice and will be available to play on Thursday night against Auburn, Mitchell said Wednesday
The 6-foot-2 freshman from Columbus, Ga., which is less than an hour from Auburn, has sat out the last three games working her way through the concussion protocol.
“She’s available,” Mitchell said. “Glad to have her back and we’ll just try to work her back in as she seems to be able. Good to have her back in practice today.”
▪ Former walk-on guard Jessica Hardin has been unavailable for several weeks while battling leg pain, but coaches are working her back in slowly. “It’s a situation where she hasn’t been able to get a lot of reps,” Mitchell said. “She’s progressing and getting better.”
▪ UK’s 2018-19 schedule will include a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam from Nov. 22-24, the school announced Wednesday.
The round-robin event, which UK will be playing in for the third time, also includes North Carolina, Mississippi, Purdue, South Florida, St. John’s, UCLA and UConn. Game times and matchups will be announced at a later date.
Auburn at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Live video broadcast: SEC Network Plus (online only)
Records: Auburn 11-9 (2-6 SEC), Kentucky 11-11 (3-5)
Series: Auburn leads 26-21
Last meeting: Kentucky won 64-60 on Jan. 22, 2017, at Auburn, Ala.