Mark Story

How Kentucky and Auburn match up — with a game prediction

What’s made the difference for Ashton Hagans?

Kentucky basketball guard Ashton Hagans scored 23 points in UK’s 69-49 win over Georgia on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Athens. It was the fifth straight double-figures scoring game for the freshman from Cartersville, Ga.
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Kentucky basketball guard Ashton Hagans scored 23 points in UK’s 69-49 win over Georgia on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Athens. It was the fifth straight double-figures scoring game for the freshman from Cartersville, Ga.

How No. 12 Kentucky (13-3, 3-1 SEC) and No. 14 Auburn (13-3, 2-1 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Small forward

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson missed all six of his shots and went scoreless in the Wildcats’ 69-49 win at Georgia on Tuesday. For the 6-foot-6, 215-pound freshman from South Hill, Va., that “oh-fer” in Athens dropped his season scoring average from 15.5 points per game to 14.6. That still makes Johnson (5.2 rebounds per game) UK’s leading scorer.

Auburn’s Samir Doughty is a “glue guy” who Tigers Coach Bruce Pearl credits with making teammates better. A 6-4, 195-pound junior, Doughty is a transfer from Virginia Commonwealth who sat out last season. The Philadelphia product is averaging 8.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals and is shooting 49 percent from the field, 44.4 percent on three-point shots and 95 percent on free throws.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson talks about his on-court relationship with roommate and fellow freshman Tyler Herro. Johnson leads UK in scoring at 16.4 points per game. The Wildcats play at Alabama on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019.

Power forward

Kentucky’s PJ Washington (11.8 points, team-best 7.9 rebounds) had 10 points and six rebounds in the victory at Georgia. The 6-8, 228-pound sophomore from Dallas has averaged 9.3 points and 6.5 boards in UK’s four SEC contests. Last season, in UK’s 76-66 loss at Auburn, Washington went for 13 points and five rebounds.

Auburn’s Chuma Okeke is the Tigers’ jack of all trades. The 6-8, 230-pound sophomore from Atlanta is averaging 9.9 ponits, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 49 percent on field-goal tries. Okeke did not produce much against Kentucky last season, scoring two points and claiming one rebound in 13 minutes.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kentucky basketball sophomore forward PJ Washington talks about his eight assists in UK's 80-72 win over North Carolina on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. Many of Washington's assists led to baskets by teammate Reid Travis.

Center

Kentucky’s Reid Travis (12.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 53 percent field-goal shooting) has struggled since SEC play began. In the first four league contests, the 6-8, 238-pound graduate transfer from Stanford has made only 14 of 32 shots and has averaged only 7.3 points. The Minneapolis product has remained effective on the glass in conference action, averaging 6.8 boards.

Auburn’s Austin Wiley is back after missing last season after his name was linked to the FBI probe of the netherworld of basketball recruiting. The 6-11, 260-pound junior has played in 15 games, starting five, and is averaging 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the floor. With Wiley (0-for-3 on three-point tries) on the floor, Auburn cannot play “five out.” The Hoover, Ala., product is also a shaky ball handler (one assist vs. 23 turnovers).

Advantage: Even

Reid Travis
Kentucky’s Reid Travis (22) has made only 14 of 32 field-goal tries since SEC play began. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Shooting guard

Kentucky’s Tyler Herro (13.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals) comes off a strong, all-around performance at Georgia — 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists. Since league play began, the 6-5, 195-pound freshman from Milwaukee has not been especially dialed-in with his shot, as he is 15 of 39 from the field and five of 17 on treys in the four SEC games.

Auburn’s Bryce Brown is the Tigers’ leading scorer at 16.2 points per game. The 6-3, 198-pound senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., is more “a scorer” than a dead-eye shooter. For the season, he is connecting on 41.7 percent of his field-goal tries and 37.8 percent of three-point attempts. In last season’s Auburn victory over UK, Brown went for 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting, 4-for-7 on treys.

Advantage: Auburn

Bryce Brown
Auburn guard Bryce Brown (2) leads the Tigers in scoring at 16.2 points per game. Albert Cesare AP

Point guard

Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans has emerged in the past six games as the Wildcats’ best player. Starting with UK’s victory over North Carolina on Dec. 22, the 6-3, 192-pound freshman from Cartersville, Ga., has averaged 14.3 points, 4.3 steals, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 53.3 percent on field goals and 80.8 percent on free throws.

Auburn’s Jared Harper is slight of build at 5-11, 175 pounds but mighty in impact. The Mableton, Ga., product is averaging 15.1 points and a robust 6.7 assists while making 40.2 percent of his three-point tries and 83.9 percent of his free throws. A season ago, Harper went 9-for-9 from the foul line and had 18 points and seven assists in Auburn’s victory over Kentucky.

Advantage: Even

Jared Harper
Auburn point guard Jared Harper is averaging 15.1 points and 6.7 assists per game.

Bench

Kentucky’s Nick Richards (3.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, team-best total of 22 blocked shots) turned in a hustling 15 minutes in the win at Georgia. The 6-11, 240-pound sophomore had four points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Freshman big man EJ Montgomery (six points, six rebounds in 14 minutes) and redshirt frosh shooting guard Jemarl Baker (six points on 2-for-2 three-pointers) also gave the Cats a big lift in Athens. Mongtomery was once committed to Auburn in recruiting.

Auburn is so deep that former starter Danjel Purifoy, who missed last season and the first nine games of 2018-19 after being linked to the FBI college hoops investigation, is now the Tigers’ 10th man. Forward Anfernee McLemore, a 6-7, 220-pound junior, killed the Cats last season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. This season, McLemore is averaging 7.1 points and 4.9 rebounds with 28 blocked shots. Swingman Malik Dunbar (8.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 21 total steals) and power forward Horace Spencer (4.3 points, 5.1 rebounds) are major contributors.

Advantage: Auburn

Nick Richards
Kentucky’s Nick Richards (4) listened to UK assistant Kenny Payne during the Wildcats’ 69-49 win at Georgia. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Intangibles and history

Kentucky is 32-3 against Auburn since Feb. 24, 1990, but the Tigers have won the two most recent games played in the Auburn Arena. This season, Auburn is 9-0 at home.

Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl is 6-12 in his career against Kentucky. Pearl was 4-9 vs. UK as Tennessee head coach (2005-2011). Since becoming Auburn’s head man in 2014, Pearl is 2-3 vs. UK.

Kentucky is 2-1 this season in true road games, but John Calipari’s Wildcats are 4-7 in SEC road contests since the start of the 2017-18 conference season.

Advantage: Auburn

Bruce Pearl
Bruce Pearl is 6-12 vs. Kentucky as a college head coach but has beaten the Wildcats the past two times UK visited Auburn. Hayne Palmour IV TNS

Prediction

Auburn 86, Kentucky 83

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.


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