Auburn-Kentucky Preview

Published Mar. 13, 2015 9:35 p.m. ET

Auburn may feel a measure of confidence entering an SEC tournament semifinal against Kentucky after hanging more points on the Wildcats than only one other team.

The reality for the Tigers, however, is that top-ranked Kentucky also had its most explosive offensive game of the season that day.

As Kentucky looks to improve to 33-0, it may again find itself cruising against 13th-seeded Auburn when they meet Saturday for a spot in the tournament championship game.

The Tigers (15-19) have been a big surprise, winning three games to get to this point after closing the regular season with a six-game skid that featured a 110-75 road defeat against the Wildcats on Feb. 21.

Kentucky, meanwhile, needed only a 64-49 quarterfinal win over Florida on Friday to reach the semis while avenging a tough loss to the Gators in last year's title game.

With victories against Mississippi State, Texas A&M and LSU, Auburn has won three SEC tournament games for the first time since taking the 1985 title with four.

KT Harrell scored 15 consecutive points, including a last-second 3-pointer to force overtime, and finished with 29 to help the Tigers upset No. 4 seed LSU 73-70 on Friday.


Reaching the semifinals is quite a feat for a team that shot 39.6 percent while earning only four victories in league play.

"We knew how good we are, even though our record didn't show it," Harrell said. "We just knew we had to pick it up defensively. That's what the problem was all season. And we're just proud of everybody and staying together and staying focused on what we have to do to try to win games. And we're just happy to be moving on."

While Auburn has tightened things up by allowing an average of 65.7 points in its three wins, its stunning surge may run into a wall against Kentucky, which in the first meeting posted its highest point total since 2002 and shot a blistering 64.7 percent.

Although the 75 points were the second-most the Wildcats have allowed this season behind an 89-86 overtime win over Ole Miss on Jan. 6, their lights-out performance on offense made it completely irrelevant.

Antoine Mason scored 29 points and Harrell added 17, but six Wildcats finished in double figures led by Karl-Anthony Towns' 19, and two others nearly joined them as Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles scored nine apiece.

Auburn did some damage from 3-point range in that contest, going 11 of 19, but it was doubled-up on the boards (44-22), outscored in the paint 62-24 and allowed the Wildcats to compile a season high-tying 25 assists on 44 field goals.

It all added up to Kentucky's 17th consecutive victory over Auburn, which hasn't beaten the Wildcats since Jan. 11, 2000. These schools haven't even faced each other in the conference tournament since Kentucky rolled to a 78-58 win in 2003.

After both previous meetings with Florida were close at halftime, the Wildcats were in a similar situation Friday with a 31-27 lead before pulling away after the break.

"The reality of it is, we didn't play with as much energy as Florida played with to start the game," coach John Calipari said. "I told them at halftime, if that's what we have in store, like that's how we're going to do this, we're going to have some problems."

Aaron Harrison and Towns each scored 13 points for Kentucky, which matched its third-worst shooting percentage of the season (37.5) but got it done at the free- throw line, going 19 for 23 compared to Florida's 3 of 5.

The winner will face second-seeded Arkansas or No. 3 seed Georgia on Sunday for the championship.