Auburn-Kentucky Preview

(AP) – Top-ranked Kentucky knows each one of its last five SEC opponents wants to be the team that knocks the Wildcats off.

To prevent their first loss, as good as the Wildcats have been, they’ll need to be better – particularly when it comes to finishing off foes.

Though Kentucky (26-0, 13-0) has successfully absorbed everyone’s best shot, coach John Calipari wants his team to be the aggressors working up to delivering the knockout punch.

First up down the stretch run is Auburn (12-14, 4-9) on Saturday night. The Wildcats will be looking to build on their effort in Tuesday’s 66-48 victory at Tennessee. Calipari was pleased with how Kentucky regrouped after some early struggles.

”They’re getting better,” Calipari said of his team on Friday. ”They were talking about it themselves. They brought it up last game. … `We’re up 12 (points), let’s go. Let’s get this to where it’s supposed to be,’ and they kept playing and they did some good stuff.

”We’ve still got a ways to go, though.”

At first glance the schedule appears to favor Kentucky with Auburn the first of three consecutive Saturday home games. On the other hand, the Wildcats will be hosting No. 18 Arkansas – which has beaten them three straight times – and Florida, which dropped a hard-fought 68-61 game to Kentucky two weeks ago.

In between are road contests against Mississippi State on Wednesday and a March 3 return date at Georgia, which battled the heavily favored Wildcats before falling 69-58 earlier this month. Such gut checks keep the Wildcats from looking past Auburn, despite the fact that they’ve won 16 straight in the series.

The Tigers, who are struggling to reach .500, will be motivated as anyone to put an end to Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection.

”They play really hard,” Calipari said of Auburn under first-year coach Bruce Pearl. ”Offensively, they’re playing pretty loose, driving the ball. Defensively, they’re just digging in and scrambling. They’re not going to let us just throw it to the post.”

To counter the expected challenge, Calipari and his assistants have been working individually with the Wildcats to make sure they exploit their size advantages within the two-platoon concept. He has also made it clear that while close victories speak volumes about the Wildcats’ poise, it’s time they start putting teams away.

Calipari’s message appears to be getting through.

The Wildcats shellacked South Carolina by 34 points at home last weekend and pulled away at Tennessee en route to the best start in the program’s history. But players say they are not focused on making history, just improving on the last game.

”We’re just working on what we do as a team and getting better,” guard Tyler Ulis said.

If they do improve, then history will take care of itself.

”We’ve just got to go out there and play the best basketball we can,” freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns said. ”Just like every other game, take it day by day and try to win them all.”

Auburn lost for the third time in four games Tuesday, 79-68 at home to Alabama, and will now head to Lexington, where it is 2-45 all-time.

"This is one of those opportunities that you can tell your grandchildren about," Pearl told Auburn’s official website Friday. "I told them this is the biggest on-campus facility in the country. There is not a floor we will play on all year long with as much history and tradition. There is not a building that will be as loud or as full of people that know the game."