UK Men's Basketball

Auburn ends its 18-game losing streak to Cats

Kentucky had not lost to Auburn in 16 years. The Cats had won 18 in a row and 32 of the last 33 in the series.

But as Coach John Calipari has said repeatedly, this Kentucky team cannot assume any victory, even when facing the program’s favorite punching bag.

That stark truth was revealed Saturday as Auburn rallied in the second half for a 75-70 victory over Kentucky.

Auburn trailed by 12 early in the second half. But guard Kareem Canty led the Tigers to the victory, scoring 21 of his game-high 26 points after halftime.

Auburn’s rally ruined something of a coming-out party for Derek Willis and muted the strong case to be made that Tyler Ulis is the most competitive and resourceful player in college basketball.

Willis recorded his first double-double, scoring 12 points (two shy of a career high) and grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds.

Ulis flirted with the second triple-double in Kentucky history. He scored 17 points, grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and got credit for eight assists.

Yet the game wasn’t about a new star ascending or a reliable star shining, arguably, brighter than ever.

It was about a proud program’s light dimming, at least for this season.

Ulis railed against this darkness. “No way we should have lost that game,” he said. “And we did.”

For Calipari, the game further cemented his overall view of the 2015-16 season: The Cats are not dominant, must realize they are not dominant and use that sobering reality as motivation.

Kentucky, now 13-4 overall, 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference and a four-time loser to unranked opponents, is not Kentucky good.

“We don’t have the margin of error that we’ve had for some of my teams,” Calipari said. “So when I talk about winning basketball, it matters.”

Then, as if repeating for emphasis, he added, “It matters.”

Auburn, which had a Ratings Percentage Index of 176, improved to 8-8 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. The Tigers did not want to hear about this not being a vintage Kentucky team.

“We’re not a vintage Auburn team,” Canty said. “You can say what you want, but we won.”

Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl acknowledged that Kentucky is more vulnerable than usual.

“They don’t have, right now, against some defenses, a go-to inside presence,” he said.

But Pearl said it was fitting for his rebuilding program to celebrate a victory over No. 14 Kentucky, the first ranked opponent Auburn had beaten since 2012. The Tigers had lost 15 straight against ranked opponents.

“When you beat a Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas or Duke, that’s significant,” he said.

Further evidence of Kentucky’s inability to play “winning basketball” came after a timeout with 2:42 left (and 21 seconds on the shot clock) and the score tied at 65-65. The Cats could not get off a shot.

After an empty Auburn possession, UK took the lead when Ulis drove and somehow got a shot over Tyler Harris, who is a foot taller. It banked in to put UK ahead 67-65.

Auburn regained the lead when Canty drove to a basket while being fouled by Ulis. The three-point play put UK behind 68-67 with 1:32 left.

After another timeout, Kentucky seemed to get the shot it wanted: an open Jamal Murray three from the left corner. But he missed.

When Harris hit a pull-up jumper over Willis, Kentucky faced a 70-67 deficit going into the final minute. But UK didn’t score again until Murray hit a meaningless three with 11.6 seconds.

Ulis led a defensive effort that made basketball difficult for Canty. Auburn’s leading scorer made only two of nine shots (one of six from the three-point line) in the first half.

Canty came into the game ranked No. 5 nationally with an average of 3.6 three-point baskets per game.

Kentucky got a lift from the still-learning Skal Labissiere early in the second half. The freshman entered the game at the 16:13 mark. In his first 10 seconds on the court, Labissiere blocked Harris’ driving shot, then beat him downcourt in transition. His reward was a lob pass that he dunked.

Twenty-two seconds later, two Ulis free throws put the Cats ahead 47-35 with 15:41 left.

Then Auburn rallied, outscoring Kentucky 21-4 in the next seven minutes.

“We had people who didn’t want to play,” Ulis said. “Didn’t play hard.”

Auburn got the kind of surprise contribution that Kentucky opponents often can summon. Patrick Keim, a 6-foot sophomore, made two free throws with 11:42 left to reduce UK’s lead to 51-48. He had not shot a free throw this season, and was 0-for-2 in his career.

After the teams traded the lead five times, Canty’s three-point play with 1:32 left put Auburn ahead for good at 68-67. He completed five second-half possessions with either a three-point basket (four) or an and-one (one).

Canty cited Kentucky’s self-appointed status as the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball as a factor in his first half struggles.

“I was too anxious to beat them,” he said. “It’s Kentucky. When you grow up where I come from (Harlem), there are two teams you dream about: Either playing for Kentucky or Duke, or having the chance to play against them.

“I had the chance to play against them,” Canty said of his second-half revival. “With my whole family watching. The whole world was watching.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

AUBURN 75,

No. 14 KENTUCKY 70

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Lee

19

1-3

1-2

4

1

3

3

Poythress

21

2-5

2-2

3

0

2

6

Ulis

40

5-17

7-7

10

8

4

17

Briscoe

31

3-12

2-4

3

1

4

8

Murray

36

8-22

0-1

5

2

5

20

Labissiere

8

2-3

0-0

2

0

3

4

Matthews

7

0-0

0-0

0

1

1

0

David

0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Mulder

7

0-0

0-0

3

0

0

0

Floreal

0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Willis

31

4-10

2-2

12

2

3

12

Totals

200

25-72

14-18

48

15

25

70

Percentages: FG .347, FT .778. Three-point goals: 6-18, .333 (Murray 4-10, Willis 2-5, Ulis 0-3). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 7 (Poythress 3, Lee 2, Willis, Labissiere). Turnovers: 11 (Briscoe 4, Willis 2, Murray 2, Labissiere, Poythress, Ulis). Steals: 7 (Murray 3, Briscoe 2, Poythress, Willis). Technical fouls: Labissiere.

AUBURN

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Bowers

28

3-12

2-6

10

1

2

8

Harris

29

6-11

6-8

11

2

3

21

Granger

19

0-0

2-2

2

0

1

2

Canty

39

7-20

7-11

2

4

1

26

Lang

32

2-2

0-0

2

1

3

6

Spencer

21

1-3

2-2

3

0

1

4

Brown

29

2-7

0-0

1

1

1

6

Keim

1

0-0

2-2

0

0

0

2

Waddell

2

0-0

0-0

0

0

1

0

Totals

200

21-55

21-31

38

9

13

75

Percentages: FG .382, FT .677. Three-point goals: 12-26, .462 (Canty 5-12, Harris 3-3, Lang 2-2, Brown 2-5, Bowers 0-4). Team rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 7 (Spencer 5, Harris, Bowers). Turnovers: 13 (Bowers 6, Canty 2, Harris 2, Lang, Brown, Waddell). Steals: 2 (Bowers 2). Technical fouls: None.

Kentucky

35

35

70

Auburn

30

45

75

A—9,121. Officials—Tony Henderson, Brian Shey, Mike Roberts.

Next game

Kentucky at Arkansas

7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN)

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