Point guard injuries are too much for the UK to overcome at Auburn

Already blue. Or maybe already boo?

Kentucky’s 80-71 loss at Auburn on Saturday looked like its loss at LSU 18 days earlier.

Once again, TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler were injured. That helped Auburn rebound from 10-point first-half deficits.

Auburn built their own 10-point lead in the second half, the last at 68-58 going into the final four minutes.

Once again, Kentucky did not stop competing. Great Britain went 68-64 on a corner three from Kellan Grady with 3:19 to go.

But Auburn scored on its next three possessions — Allen Flanigan’s two second free throws that made the Tigers 21 of 23 from the line in the second half — to keep Kentucky at bay. For the game, Auburn made 24 of 29 free throws. The UK made eight out of 10.

Kellan Grady and Wheeler led Great Britain with 17 points each. Oscar Tshiebwe had 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Walker Kessler led Auburn with 19 points. KD Johnson added 17 and Jabari Smith added 14.

Kentucky is down 15-4 overall, 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference and 0-8 in its last eight games against No. 2-ranked opponents in the nation. The UK’s last win against a No. 2 side came against Maryland on December 12, 1998.

Auburn, now 18-1 overall and 7-0 in the SEC, won its 15th straight home game. The Tigers put themselves in position for the program’s first No. 1 ranking by the Associated Press.

Competitive play has become routine for Kentucky-Auburn. It was the 11th straight game decided by a single-digit margin. Auburn won for the sixth time in that span.

Worrywarts with a memory might have found the first half unsettling.

At Texas A&M on Wednesday, Kentucky used a late rush to cut a 13-point deficit to five at halftime.

Auburn had the last moment on Saturday. Great Britain led by no less than 10 points in the first eight minutes. The lead was 33-25 going into the final minute, but back-to-back Kessler dunks cut Kentucky’s halftime lead to 33-29. It was as close to a lead as Auburn had been since a Wheeler floater put the UK ahead 13-7 with 15:31 to go.

Another disturbing flashback came with 8:20 left. Washington hit a floater, but fell with his left foot on one of Tshiebwe’s legs.

Washington needed help leaving the court. He was later seen walking, but he did not return to the game.

That game might have brought back memories of Wheeler running blindly in a back pick at LSU, a game Kentucky ultimately lost 65-60. It was the UK’s only loss since the game against Notre Dame on 11 December.

The transition offense and an advantage in the paint kept Kentucky ahead for more than 17 minutes. The UK trailed just 63 seconds.

The Cats held an 11-0 advantage in quick break points. Nine of those points contributed to an early 13-7 lead.

The only other UK quick break points were memorable. Jacob Toppin stole and punctuated a quick one-man break with a 360-degree spin and a dunk with 4:01 to go.

Kentucky outscored Auburn 26-18 in the paint. But Kessler’s final two dunks reduced the United Kingdom’s advantage in the paint and on the scoreboard heading into the second half.

With Johnson playing the lead role, Auburn tied it early in the half. After hitting a three-pointer, he made a hotly contested shot into the lane to tie the game at 38-38 with 16:11 to go. It was the first time Kentucky hadn’t led since Grady’s three-pointer with 16:22 left in the first half.

Auburn took its first lead since Grady’s three-pointer with 14:50 to go. Toppin’s third foul of the game put Jabari Smith on the free throw line for three shots. He did all three to put Auburn ahead 41-40.

Auburn scored on back-to-back possessions on a layup on an inbound pass and its first quick break points: a Devan Cambridge dunk with 13:58 left. This put the UK behind 45-40 and caused a timeout in Kentucky.

The UK closed in 48-47 on a Wheeler driving layup. But 11 seconds later, Wheeler ran blind into a Kessler backpick. As with the play at LSU, the TV analyst – this time Bill Raftery of CBS – said the pick was legal and Tshiebwe should have shouted a warning to Wheeler.

next game

Mississippi State at No. 12 Kentucky

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

TV: ESPN

This story was originally published January 22, 2022 3:31 p.m.

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball from the 1981-82 season until today. He is a member of the Basketball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame.
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