Kentucky had developed quite the bad habit of falling behind early in games and needing a dramatic comeback to win.
For at least a night, the No. 10 Cats found a way to kick that habit, leading Auburn from start to finish to win out 78-57 on Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
"We did a good job of starting out strong," senior guard Jennifer O'Neill said. "Usually we start out real flat, real slow."
Was it a teamwide New Year's resolution or has Coach Matthew Mitchell found a solution?
It's too soon to tell, Mitchell said, but he liked how Kentucky looked locked in early in the game and then again near the end. The Cats scored 10 straight as part of a 20-7 run in the game's last seven minutes to run away with it.
"When we were the aggressor, when we outhustled Auburn, it was easy to see that we're a much better team than when we had a couple of lapses," Mitchell said after the win that saw four Cats score in double digits, led by O'Neill's 17 points, including five three-pointers, which tied her career high.
Linnae Harper added 15 points and five rebounds. Alexis Jennings and Makayla Epps had 12 points apiece for Kentucky, which won its seventh in a row over the Tigers (9-7, 0-3 Southeastern Conference). Azia Bishop pitched in eight points, 10 rebounds, five blocked shots and four steals.
Auburn was led by 23 points and six rebounds from Tra'Cee Tanner, who cut the Cats' lead to eight points with seven minutes to go in the second half.
At that timeout, Mitchell asked his team to get aggressive.
"We started hustling," he said. "We really tried to make hustling a premium tonight because Auburn scraps so hard and plays so hard.
"The last seven minutes we outhustled Auburn, and that's why you saw the margin increase."
In that final seven minutes, the Cats (14-2, 3-0) forced Auburn into seven of its 25 turnovers. The 25 miscues, which Kentucky turned into 23 points, were tied for Auburn's most this season.
"It is very hard to win a basketball game when you turn the ball over 25 times," Auburn Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "Our team knew that if we turned the ball over we would give Kentucky a good chance to win the game, because they convert turnovers into points quickly."
As important as the forced turnovers were, Mitchell was most pleased that Kentucky turned the ball over just 12 times against Auburn's full-court press.
It was UK's fifth straight game with 16 or fewer miscues. It was especially hard for the Cats to prepare for that press since they don't run a similar one, they have a short bench and the team's male practice players are still on break.
Kentucky is going to need another fast start and aggressive finish on Sunday when it travels to top-ranked South Carolina (15-0, 3-0). The Cats fell to the Gamecocks twice in the regular season last year before knocking them off in the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky is 1-16 against opponents ranked No. 1, with the only win coming over top-ranked Tennessee at Rupp Arena in 2006.