No. 8 Kentucky welcomes no. 17 Auburn in the second matchup between the two this season. Last game between the two was the last time Kentucky lost this season, in a 75-66 defeat at Auburn Arena. Let’s go through some of the main things to look at going into this game:
In the loss against Auburn, Kentucky was outrebounded 42-28, and lost the offensive rebounding margin 17-6. This was maybe the biggest impact on the game, along with foul trouble. Just in terms of rebounds per game, Auburn ranks first in the country, at 37.8 rpg, and first in offensive rebounds per game (12.2).
UK sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans eluded to the toughness they have to bring in the pre-Auburn press conference today.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Hagans said. “We just got to go out there and play aggressive, fight.”
A big part in keeping the rebound margin close will be containing Auburn center Austin Wiley, who in the last game between the two, had 12 points and 10 rebounds, seven of which were offensive rebounds. Wiley is averaging 9.4 rebounds per game (2nd in the SEC) and 3.6 offensive rebounds per game (3.6) this season.
I’d imagine Kentucky forwards Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery will be determined for a rematch against Wiley . In the last game against Auburn, Richards just had seven points and seven boards, while Montgomery just totaled two points and four boards. The two also both ended the game with four fouls, which damaged their rhythm in the game. If UK is going to win this game, Richards and Montgomery will need to be active on the boards.
Currently, Kentucky is first place in the SEC standings with a 13-2 conference record. Sitting in second place is Auburn, with an 11-4 SEC record, so if the Cats win tomorrow, they outright when the SEC regular season title for the 49th time in school history. That is a lot.
Kentucky would also, with a win, make that their 18th straight victory over Auburn at Rupp Arena. The last time the Tigers defeated Kentucky in Rupp Arena was 1988, when Auburn upset then No. 1 ranked Kentucky 53-52.
Also, while Auburn is undefeated at home at 20-0, they are 3-5 in true road games this season. So, Kentucky could be seeing a different team than they did earlier this season at Auburn Arena.
It is no secret that Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley has been absolutely electric of late. In the last game against Auburn, Quickley led the team in points with 23 total on 6-13 shooting overall and 9-10 shooting from the free throw line. He has led the team in scoring in the last four games, including getting career-highs in points in the last two games. In the Texas A&M game, Quickley went 8-12 from downtown, the most made three-pointers in his career.
Quickley has also proven himself as a clutch performer, especially as of late. Over the course of UK’s current seven-game winning streak in the second half alone, he is averaging 15.3 points and shooting 58.0% from the field, 60.9% from 3-point range and 92.1% from the free throw line.
It goes without saying that Immanuel Quickley should be, and probably is, the leading candidate to be the SEC Player of the Year. With him playing like he has been, it will be tough for anyone to beat UK.
I think Kentucky will win this game 74-67 and clinch the SEC regular season title. A lot, like I mentioned, will fall on the backs of Richards and Montgomery, and how well the rebound and stay out of foul trouble. I don’t think Kentucky will win the rebounding battle, but I think it will be a close enough margin to where it doesn’t make a huge difference like it did in the last game.