- Saturday, January 16 2010 -
Kentucky - 72 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 2nd by AP and 2nd by ESPN/USA Today]
Auburn - 67 (Head Coach: Jeff Lebo) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 39, Auburn 26
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|Florida 89 - 77|||||Arkansas 101 - 70|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats barely hold on to perfection
AUBURN, Ala. - John Calipari has warned his Kentucky team all season its penchant for building big leads before shifting into cruise control is a dangerous habit that will eventually come home to roost.
The Cats walked all the way to the doorstep of the comeuppance once again before making just enough plays to get out of Auburn with a 72-67 victory in front of 11,669 fans at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The 19-point lead that vanished marked the fourth consecutive game the Cats watched substantial leads evaporate before re-engaging down the stretch.
"Almost, wasn't it?" Calipari said when asked when the day might arrive. "We were up 19 and all the sudden a guy makes two errors and it's 13. We were up 13 at the half and it should have been 20. I even tried to get us to slow it down and put them away and we couldn't do that. This team is a work in progress
"(Auburn) had their chances and we were very fortunate to win the game. The greatest thing for us to see is we're nowhere close to where we need to be and if our team thinks we are, well we're setting ourselves up for some heavy duty failure later on."
Facing another jacked up team feeding off an unusually full arena the Cats led all but 21 seconds of the contest but that hardly eased Calipari's concerns over the inconsistent focus and lack of a killer instinct. An 18-3 run in the first half stretched UK's lead to 39-20 with 1:55 remaining before the break but back-to-back three-pointers by DeWayne Reed gave the Tigers a jolt of energy and sparked a comeback that ultimately allowed Auburn to tie the score at 60 with 8:20 left in the game.
"We knew he was the spark plug," UK junior forward Patrick Patterson said. "If he gets rolling their entire team gets going and feeds off that energy and that's what happened."
With Auburn chipping away at the lead the Cats reverted to a team playing as if it were trailing, hoisting quick shots, blindly attacking the rim with little concern for displaying the patience that got the early lead and generally performing as if it were facing adversity for the first time. As Auburn continued to strike an impressive second half balance between its inside-out offensive game the lead kept eroding.
The Tigers put themselves in position to score the massive upset when Frankie Sullivan swished a long three from the top of the key to tie the game at 60 but DeAndre Liggins cut baseline, took a pass from DeMarcus Cousins and laid the ball in with 7:59 left to give UK a lead it would never relinquish.
Still, Auburn wouldn't go away. The Tigers trapped Eric Bledsoe at halfcourt and Reed picked up the loose ball off a scramble, leading to two free throws that sliced the lead to 70-67 with 1:08 remaining. After Bledsoe missed an open three-pointer from the left wing Auburn called timeout and tried to set up a tying three from Tay Waller but Liggins blew through the screen and Reed was forced to hoist a contested triple that clanged off the rim and into Liggins' hands. From there, John Wall made a pair of free throws with 8.9 second left to seal the game.
Of course, none of that was enough to appease Calipari, who once again noted the lesson he hoped his team learned.
"You can't just get in a rut and say, 'We're just going to do what we have to do and we'll win that game,'" Calipari said. "There will be a team that just isn't going to let you, their will to win will be more than yours. If they made a couple of threes down the stretch we lose."
DeMarcus Cousins (#15) and Eric Bledsoe defend against a Brendon Knox shot attempt
Darius Miller makes the second of two dramatic blocks in the first half
DeMarcus Cousins fights an Auburn player for position in the paint