Cats blemish Auburn’s unbeaten home mark

Published 11:42 am Monday, February 19, 2024

Kentucky made itself at home in one of the toughest arenas in college basketball Saturday night with a wire-to-wire victory.

The No. 22 Wildcats (18-7, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) ended a three-game losing streak to the 13th-ranked Tigers at Neville Arena with a 70-59 victory Saturday night. The win also ended Auburn’s 16-game home winning streak, the seventh-longest streak in the nation. Prior to the loss, the Tigers had won 43 of their previous 45 home games, including three straight over Kentucky.

“Coming into the game, nobody believed we were going to win the game,” said Kentucky center Ugonna Onyenso, who had seven points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. “Nobody really believed in us, so we came into the game with nothing to lose.”

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Kentucky held Auburn (20-6, 9-4) to just 31 percent shooting from the floor and scored 23 points off 11 turnovers. The Tigers made just four 3-pointers on 22 attempts and never led against the Wildcats, who held a 64-48 advantage with six minutes remaining, quieting a rowdy crowd by matching Auburn’s physical play.

Auburn rolled to a 101-61 rout of No. 11 South Carolina earlier this week but was held to its second-lowest offensive output of the season by the Wildcats, who have held their past two opponents to under 63 points.

“If Kentucky guards like this, they can beat anybody,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “They were more physical. There were a couple plays that I’m going to send into the league. They were real physical. But that’s what happens. When kids get challenged about not playing hard, well then they go play hard. They play physically. Their ball pressure disrupted us.”

Antonio Reeves paced three Kentucky players in double figures with 22 points. Reeves made three of the team’s four 3-pointers, including a clutch trey down the stretch that helped stave off a late comeback attempt by the Tigers.

“Reeves has killed us every year,” Pearl said.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Reeves was a difference-maker for his squad.

“Today was Antonio,” Calipari said. “When one guy can go do what he did in those games, it’s huge. We have multiple guys that can go and do stuff like that.”

Adou Thiero started in place of injured Tre Mitchell and finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. Thiero also made all six of his attempts from the free-throw line. Mitchell sat out after injuring his shoulder in a 75-63 win over Ole Miss earlier this week.

Rob Dillingham rounded out Kentucky’s double-figure scorers with 11 points.

“When somebody plays better than you, then hat’s off to them,” Pearl said.

Calipari plans on attending the NBA All-Star game set for Sunday night in Indianapolis. Tyrese Maxey, Bam Adebayo and Julius Randle (injured) are on the Eastern Division roster. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Anthony Davis, Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns are part of the Western Conference All-Stars. He added that Reeves will have the same opportunity in the future.

“(Reeves is) going to have an opportunity like the six guys that I’m gonna go watch tomorrow,” Calipari said. “I am flying to Indianapolis, hopefully get together with the families, and then go enjoy six guys in the All-Star Game.”