After watching a previous SEC game between Ole Miss/Missouri, I didn’t believe I was going to see a more physical game from Auburn and Kentucky. Before the first half ended, I was wondering if I was watching a basketball game or an MMA match. The tipping point coming on a box-out between Archie Goodwin and Auburn’s Jordan Granger. Goodwin and Granger start battling for position as the ball goes up, a shove, and Granger throws a punch to the lower back of Goodwin. Infuriated, Goodwin turned around and started walking towards Granger until the refs broke it up. Granger was ejected from the game, and Goodwin picked up a technical and a personal foul on the play. The game itself was a shadow of that altercation, a physical and sometimes brutal play.
In these though and physical games, some guys show up and some gauys disappear. That is how you know who can handle it, and who doesn’t like it. The teams traded 9-0 runs and Kentucky never lead by more than 8 points. Notably, Ryan Harrow was struggling with the physical play and he rode the bench. Jarrod Polson played more minutes (13) than Harrow (9). The energy guys for the ‘Cats was lead by Polson and Cauley-Stein. Diving for 50/50 balls, playing physically, and making plays for the team and not for themselves. The Tigers also did something they did not do in the last meeting, they made their shots. Auburn shot 6 for 9 from three, after shooting 0-15 in the last game. The ‘Cats only lead by 6 at the break despite only 4 turnovers.
The physical nature of the game continued after halftime. With just under 16 minutes to play, Auburn’s Frankie Sullivan wrapped up and tackled Kyle Wiltjer on a steal and driving layup attempt. Sullvan was hit with a Flagrant 1 foul, but never returned to the game afterwards. Despite Auburn trying to hang around with the ‘Cats, trying to make a comeback, coach Tony Barbee did not play his leading scorer at all. This was a true indicator of the character that surrounds Barbee, if you choose to play in a non-classy manner, you won’t play.
The ‘Cats survived the physical test against the Tigers with a balanced scoring attack. Two bench players, Wiltjer and Cauley-Stein played very well and lead the team in scoring with 14 & 12 points respectively. Despite his struggles, Harrow finished with 12 points, Mays added 10, and Noel finished with his 3rd straight double-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 1 block. With the fouls aplenty, the ‘Cats maintained enough of a lead by making more free-throws (26) than Auburn attempted (17) and that was the difference maker. The highlight of the night came with the game well in hand and the ‘Cats looking to get out of dodge without any injuries. Poythress wrapped a pass around his back to WIllie Cauley-Stein for the dunk and a foul. The ‘Cats used their free-throw shooting and tougher play to take the win 72-62.
Kentucky will head down to Gainesville to face Florida on Tuesday. The ‘Cats were really looking for a feel good game to get the confidence up against the Gators. This win was a good battle test, but was not without frustrations. At last check, the Gators looked to be giving Mississippi State the death roll and will be ready for Kentucky coming up. The ‘Cats have played really well on the road, only losing a close one to Alabama earlier in the season. With trips to Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia coming up, the schedule is a little unkind to the young ‘Cats. The last “big” game against a Top-5 opponent for Kentucky was at Louisville in December. They played very well in that match-up and almost knocked off the ‘Cards. The game against Florida will be a rivalry and have the similar feel. If the first few road games are any indication, the ‘Cats should play well. The Gators will also be without their leading rebounder, Will Yeguete due to arthroscopic knee surgery. The ‘Cats and Gators tip off from the O’Connell Center at 7pm on Tuesday.