In the first 9:45 of Saturday’s game against Auburn, the Tigers shot 1-16 from the floor and 0-8 from three. For a team that averaged 92.5 points per game in its previous two outings, it seemed like, as long as the trends held, head coach John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats were in good position to get out of Auburn with a win. That is, as long as the offensive execution could match the defensive intensity. And unfortunately for the Cats, that execution never seemed to take shape, as the Tigers used a second half surge to defeat the Wildcats 66-59.
Headlined by freshman phenom Sharife Cooper, the tigers’ fast-tempo, run-and-gun offense is very similar to what Kentucky saw Tuesday night against Alabama. And despite the final result, the Cats did a solid job of limiting Cooper’s ability to score and forcing Auburn to take contested jump shots. The Tigers finished the game 23-60 from the floor (38.3%) and 5-24 (20.8%) from three. In two games against SEC competition prior to Saturday’s matchup, Cooper was averaging 27.0 points per game, 10.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Against Kentucky, however, he tallied just 11 points on 3-13 shooting, along with eight assists and four turnovers.
“What we did with their point, Sharife, probably will be the game plan other teams will watch,” Calipari said. “But offensive rebounds, what does that have to do with our offense? Offensive rebounds. That’s what they got and that’s how the game was even close.”
Offensive rebounding certainly proved to be a big part of Auburn’s success, as the Tigers tallied 16 offensive boards and turned them into 12 second-chance points. The biggest problem, however, proved once again to be Kentucky’s inability to score in the half court.
The Cats shot just 23-57 (40.4%) from the field, 4-17 from three and 9-16 from the free throw line. Only two Wildcats managed to eclipse double figures, as Davion Mintz led the team with 11 points on 5-12 shooting. Freshman Jacob Toppin added ten points in 22 minutes off the bench to go along with six rebounds. No other Kentucky player was able to score more than eight, however, as Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks, Jr. each contributed eight in 23 and 28 minutes off the bench respectively.
With the loss, Kentucky falls to 4-8 on the season and 3-2 in the SEC. They’ll head to Athens, Ga. Wednesday to take on the Bulldogs in an attempt to end a two-game losing skid. Tip-off is set for 7:00 pm on the SEC Network.