Mark Story

Instant analysis: Who’s up, who’s down after Kentucky’s 77-71 loss to Auburn

Instant analysis from NCAA Tournament Midwest Region No. 2 seed Kentucky’s 77-71 overtime loss to No. 5 Auburn on Sunday:

How the game was won

Auburn veteran guards Jared Harper (26 points) and Bryce Brown (24) combined for 50 points and Kentucky made only 12 of 21 foul shots as the Tigers earned their first Final Four trip in school history.

Game balls

1. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. The story of the game was Auburn’s experienced guards dominating Kentucky’s all-freshman backcourt.

2. Bruce Pearl. The Auburn coach just directed his team to back-to-back-to-back wins over Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky to send the school to its first Final Four. And remember, Pearl beat Kentucky without injured standout forward Chuma Okeke.

3. PJ Washington. The Kentucky forward (28 points, 13 rebounds) was brilliant in defeat. But, for the second straight year, Washington’s foul shooting (6-of-11) hurt UK in the NCAA Tournament.

Reasons for worry

1. The usual roster churn. With the Kentucky season over, now all eyes will turn to the usual who is leaving, who is staying and who is coming on the ever-fluid UK roster.

Key number(s)

One and eight. Auburn is advancing to the men’s basketball Final Four for the first time in school history and is the eighth current member of the Southeastern Conference to reach at least one national semifinal.

Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are now the only current SEC teams never to advance to a men’s Final Four.

The atmosphere

1. Kentucky fans were in the majority in the Sprint Center crowd of 17,174. Cats backers fired up a chant of “Go Big Blue!” in the moments leading up to tip-off.

2. Though outgunned in the stands, the Auburn fans in attendance were loud.

3. Injured Auburn standout Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL in the Tigers’ round-of-16 win over North Carolina, watched the game in a wheelchair from behind the Auburn bench.

Up next

Midwest Region champion Auburn (30-9) will face South Region champion Virginia (33-3) in the men’s NCAA Tournament Final Final on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Kentucky finished its season 30-7.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader 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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