Just a few days after Kentucky’s first loss of the season, when the Cats gave back all of a 17-point lead to Auburn, Makayla Epps smiled.
“I feel like this was good for us,” UK’s guard said of the defeat in which Kentucky turned the ball over a season-high 26 times against an aggressive Tigers press and allowed Auburn to shoot 71.4 percent in the fourth quarter.
The 10th-ranked Cats are about to find out if that’s true on Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum.
It’s been just two weeks since Kentucky (13-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) was upset by Auburn at the Tigers’ place. Now UK gets to see just how much education came it.
“They really took it to us a few weeks back,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They outhustled us and outplayed us and played tougher than we did.”
Watching video of the game, UK’s players saw clearly how little energy and focus they had in that 66-61 loss.
That in itself was a learning experience, senior Janee Thompson said.
“They really wanted the game,” she said of Auburn. “They played with more excitement and enthusiasm. Every time they made a good play or got a steal, they were jumping for joy and we were pretty much the opposite of that the whole time.
“Every negative play we had, you could see it in our body language and it kind of spiraled out of control in the second half.”
Even with a 30-13 lead in the first half, the Cats didn’t have enough focus to put Auburn away, Epps said.
And when the Auburn press started to force turnovers, it was like a snowball rolling down a hill.
“Very disappointed in myself for that,” said Epps, who had a team-high 20 points but also five turnovers. “I let Auburn dictate (things) for me a lot. … It’s a growing experience for me. I need to be more aggressive against the press.”
The Cats say Auburn’s press shouldn’t be a problem this go around.
“If our energy and focus was where it should’ve been, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Thompson said. “Every time we turned the ball over, we got down on ourselves and it spiraled out of control. I think we’ll do better.”
Another loss — a 73-62 loss to second-ranked South Carolina on Thursday — had UK looking to regroup.
No better time than a rare do-over in the SEC, just two weeks removed from the loss at Auburn (12-5, 2-2).
“It’s a great opportunity to turn around and try to correct some of those mistakes,” Mitchell said. “I think in this situation this is a positive for us with it being fresh on our minds.”
No. 9 Kentucky at Auburn
When: 1 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: UK 13-2 (2-2 SEC); Auburn 12-5 (2-2)
Series: Auburn leads 26-19
Last meeting: Auburn won 66-61 on Jan. 3 in Auburn Arena
UK’s probable starters
Reserves: 1-Batouly Camara, F, 6-2, Fr.; 2-Ivana Jakubcova, C, 6-6, Sr.; 24-Taylor Murray, G, 5-6, Fr.; 45-Alyssa Rice, C, 6-3, So.
Auburn’s probable starters
Reserves: 2-Bria Johnson, G, 5-8, So.; 3-Erica Sanders, G, 5-10, Fr.; 12-Jonika Garvin, F, 6-0, Fr.; 23-Jessica Jones, F, 6-2, So.; 33-Janiah McKay, G, 5-6, Fr.; 35-Cabriana Capers, F, 6-2, Sr.