Nell Fortner fought the temptation to call a timeout with No. 5 Auburn's once-commanding lead dwindling. Instead, she let Whitney Boddie and the Tigers ride it out on their own.
Boddie had 20 points and 10 assists and helped the Tigers overcome a big second-half rally by Kentucky in an 81-69 victory over the Wildcats on Thursday night without the aid of a calming sideline break.
"I thought it was a good time to do that and let them be master of the game," Fortner said. "I have tremendous confidence in them. I know they know what to do and how to get it back on track. It builds their confidence when I let them do that."
DeWanna Bonner added 17 points and nine rebounds for the Tigers (24-1, 9-1 Southeastern Conference), who led by 20 at halftime.
Kentucky (13-12, 3-7) wiped out most of that lead by scoring 11 consecutive points. Amani Franklin cut it to 59-53 with two free throws at the midpoint of the second half. The Tigers pushed it back to 14 with help from three baskets by Boddie, but the Wildcats closed to within single digits one more time.
Amber Smith hit two straight three-pointers to make it 77-69 with 2 minutes left, but Sherell Hobbs and Bonner both scored on drives to the basket to put it away.
Eleia Roddy led Kentucky with 21 points — 18 in the second half — and 10 rebounds. Franklin and Smith each scored 15 points while Victoria Dunlap added 13. Smith also had six assists.
Dunlap was held to four rebounds, five below her league-leading average.
The Wildcats, who have lost six of their last seven games, won the previous two meetings with Auburn.
The Tigers had used a series of drives and fast-break layups to build a 27-5 run after the Wildcats managed to keep it even for the first seven minutes of the game. Auburn shot 62 percent in the first half and led 47-27.
"That was a very difficult game for us tonight," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Obviously Auburn's a great basketball team. They gave a great effort and really overwhelmed us in the first half with just some fantastic play.
"I thought Whitney Boddie was as good as I've seen her all year."
Auburn shot 59 percent from the floor while limiting Kentucky to 41 percent.
"The good thing, and it speaks a lot about our maturity, is how we took the hit," Boddie said. "They made their run and they cut into the lead, but we still bounced back."
Hobbs had 15 points for the Tigers, and Alli Smalley scored 11. Boddie, best in the nation in assists, shot 9-for-13 from the field and was one point shy of her career high. Boddie also recorded her eighth double-double of the season.
She took advantage of Kentucky's defensive tactics.
"They were backing off me," Boddie said. "The whole time running down the floor I could hear the coach yell, 'Back off her, she's not going to take the shot.'"
The Tigers attempted only five three-pointers in the game, making one.
Auburn got a pre-game motivational speech from football coach Gene Chizik.
"That was really good," Boddie said. "I was fired up. It might have had something to do with that first half."