Photo slideshow: No. 4 Kentucky routs Auburn 80-53
With Auburn in town, Rupp Arena figured to be the stage for a three-for-all on Saturday. But — surprise — Kentucky played the starring role.
For only the fourth time all season, Kentucky reached double digits in three-point baskets. Surprisingly, Auburn played the gang that couldn’t shoot straight from beyond the arc.
This combination helped Kentucky roll to a 80-53 victory and made the beginning of a period without Reid Travis easy to accept.
“Three” was also the applicable word for what this game meant in the Southeastern Conference race. With LSU defeating Tennessee in overtime earlier in the day, Kentucky moved into a three-way tie for first place with the Tigers and Vols going into the regular season’s final two weeks.
Kentucky, which improved to 23-4 overall and 12-2 in the SEC, made 11 three-point shots.
PJ Washington led the way with a career-high five threes on thew way to 24 points.
Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans chipped in 17 and 14 points, respectively. Keldon Johnson grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds, which helped UK win the boards 43-24.
Auburn, 18-9 overall and 7-7 in the SEC, made only eight of 27 three-point shots. The Tigers’ two leading scorers, guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, made a combined five of 18 shots.
Auburn made 32.8 percent of its shots overall. That nearly matched the season low of 32.7-percent accuracy against Ole Miss.
Kentucky led 45-31 at halftime.
The game’s start could have given fans a reason for concern. EJ Montgomery, who started in Travis’ place, picked up a foul 15 seconds after the tip. Then UK’s first offensive possession ended with Washington picking up a charging foul.
Thereafter, the disparity in three-point shooting surely eased any worry.
Kentucky and Auburn engaged in a reversal of fortune from beyond the arc. Kentucky, the team that ranked No. 314 nationally in three-point baskets (6.1 per game), made eight of its first 13. Washington led the way by tying his career high of four inside the first 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, Auburn, which ranked fourth nationally with an average of 11.2 three-point baskets per game, missed its first seven shots from beyond the arc. Five different players tried their hand. All missed.
The disparity — and UK’s first-half lead — reached their zeniths when Tyler Herro hit a three to put Kentucky ahead 36-17. At that stage, Kentucky had made eight of 13 shots from three-point range. Auburn had made one of 10.
Auburn found the range down the stretch. Three three-pointers were part of a 14-2 run that narrowed Kentucky’s lead to 38-31. But UK ended the half on a 7-0 mini run, which Herro capped with a three-pointer from the left corner.
UK fans might have recalled that Kentucky led 48-31 with 17:01 left in the second half at Auburn on Jan. 19. Led by Brown, Auburn staged a furious rally and took the lead late before UK prevailed 82-80.
Kentucky put Auburn in a deeper hole in the rematch. The Cats made three of their first four shots in opening the second half on an 8-0 run. That expanded the lead to 53-31 with 17:09 left.
Kentucky did not relax or relent. The Cats expanded the lead to 67-34 on an eye-catching two-pointer: Ashton Hagans used a Euro step to the right to go by a defender en route to a transition layup.
Arkansas at No. 4 Kentucky
9 p.m. Tuesday (SEC Network)