No. 1 Kentucky starts fast, never looks back in win over Auburn
Top-ranked Kentucky manhandled Auburn at the start, shook off an early second-half lull and closed with a flourish that threatened a couple of milestones before the Wildcats matched the program’s longest winning streak.
Good things happen when Kentucky seemingly can’t miss from the field.
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 19 points to lead six Kentucky players in double figures, and the Wildcats recorded their highest scoring total since 2002 with a 110-75 blowout of Auburn on Saturday night that extended their best start ever. Kentucky also equaled the 1995-96 squad’s school-record 27-game winning streak, a performance that culminated with its sixth NCAA title.
Kentucky (27-0, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) surpassed 100 points each in preseason wins over lower-level Pikeville and Georgetown College but hadn’t scored at least 110 points in a regular-season game since beating Tennessee State 115-87 on Dec. 30, 2002. Aaron Harrison’s two free throws with 3:18 left broke the century mark in a game that was never in doubt as the Wildcats scored the first nine points and poured it on. He finished with 18.
Dakari Johnson added 13 points, Andrew Harrison 12, Devin Booker 11 and Tyler Ulis 10, as Kentucky shot a season-best 65 percent from the field. The Wildcats dominated the paint 62-24, outrebounded the Tigers 44-22 and tied a season high with 25 assists.
Though short of the 120 points Kentucky scored against Vanderbilt on Feb. 7, 1996, it was the Wildcats’ first 100-point game against a Southeastern Conference foe since beating Arkansas 101-70 on Jan. 23, 2010.
"We cherish these moments," said Towns, who also grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots. "Not every game is going to be like this. We executed, played great defense and also made a lot of shots."
Antoine Mason scored a game-high 29 points including five 3-pointers for Auburn (12-15, 4-10), which lost for the eighth time in 11 games.
The Wildcats’ was keeping SEC scoring leader K.T. Harrell (17.9 points per game) and teammates Cinmeon Bowers (13.1) and Mason (14.9) in check. Mason eventually warmed up from the perimeter to lead the Tigers’ 11-of-19 shooting from behind the arc while Harrell added 17 points, but neither contribution mattered against Kentucky.
"The whole idea was you got to be on these three (players)," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "They can score and they can score a bunch and they did. Mason had 29 and could have had more. Harrell had 17. … When they felt they could get baskets, they got into a comfort level and made shots. If you didn’t guard them, they were going to make shots."
Auburn didn’t make many early on in a long night for the Tigers and first-year coach Bruce Pearl.
Kentucky sprinted to a 23-2 lead that eventually reached 27 points late in the first half. Until Jordon Granger’s jumper with 9:03 left made it 30-6, the Wildcats seemed headed toward surpassing their season-low seven first-half points allowed to UCLA in December. Kentucky only outscored Auburn 22-20 for the rest of the half but still led 52-26 at the break.
"Any run they get is an advantage," Mason said. "We didn’t start the game off like we wanted to and they hit us in our mouths first."
Former Wildcats guard Tony Delk, named the 1996 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player while leading Kentucky to its sixth NCAA title, had his No. 00 jersey retired in a halftime ceremony that also recognized gymnast Jenny Hanson. Asked if his title team could beat this year’s squad projected to possibly go unbeaten, the All-American answered that the teams are different but said, "they are long and athletic. I thought we were quicker. We had much better shooters. I will say that."
Auburn: The Tigers shot 42 percent from the field including 52 percent in the second half in which they were only outscored 58-49.
Kentucky: After shooting 62 percent in the first half, the Wildcats made 23 of 34 (68 percent) in the second.
Auburn: Hosts LSU on Tuesday.
Kentucky: Visits Mississippi State on Wednesday.