UK goes for it’s second straight SEC road win on Saturday when it plays the Auburn Tigers. Auburn really isn’t known much for it’s basketball program, the two most notable players from the program being Charles Barkley and probably Chuck Person. Not much has changed this year. The team has struggled, starting conference play 0-2 with losses to South Carolina and at Tennessee. The Tennessee loss was particularly bad, losing 81-55 to an undermanned Volunteers squad (even though they still have some good players). This is all likely quite dissappointing to Auburn hoops fans, who came into the season hoping for better things after the strong finish they had last year, winning 11 of their last 14 games. They narrowly missed an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney, but did win two games in the NIT, making it to the quarterfinals. But the writing was on the wall early this season with bad losses to teams like Troy, Missouri St., Central Florida and Sam Houston St. They did beat Virginia in the non-conference season, but I’m not sure that win carries much weight.
Currently, Auburn sits dead last in the conference at 0-2 and with a 9-8 overall record. To me, this game is really about how well Kentucky plays. Auburn is outmanned at every position and UK should win convincingly. UK has let lesser teams hang around at times this year, plus the game is on the road in conference, so you never know what can happen. But if UK were to lose this game, it would be a REALLY bad loss. With that being said, let’s take a look at a couple of Auburn’s best players and the key matchups for the game:
Dewayne Reed vs. John Wall – Reed is Auburn’s best player. He averages 16 points per game and 4.5 assists. He can put points on the board in bunches, having scored 15 or more in 12 of Auburn’s 17 games. However, he does not shoot a great percentage, shooting 32% from the 3 pt. line and only 41% overall. Once again, Wall will win this matchup in every area. If Wall focuses on slowing Reed down, Auburn has virtually no shot to win this game (they don’t anyway).
Lucas Hargrove vs. Patrick Patterson – Hargrove is a solid player, averging 12 points and 7 rebounds per game. But he should be no match for Patterson. Patterson is bigger and stronger, and should own this matchup. Patterson has gotten his points and rebounds in the last few games, but he hasn’t been particularly dominant. I’d like to see him really take it to Hargrove and impose his will.
Other Key players – Tay Walker and Frankie Sullivan are their best shooters, both hitting at a 39% clip from outside. And they both like to jack it up from the perimeter. Auburn is going to shoot a lot of threes, and Walker and Sullivan are both streaky and capable of getting hot from outside and putting up a lot of points quickly. UK needs to find these two on defense and not let them get in a rhythm. Kentucky has struggled to put lesser teams away when their shooters have gotten in a groove. Brendon Knox is the best player off the bench averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds. Johnnie Lette actually starts the game, but Knox will get most of the minutes at the center position off the bench. Lette isn’t quite like Mark Coury was a couple of years ago for UK (pretty much just playing until the first dead ball, then coming out), but he only averages 13 minutes a game as a starter.
I hate feeling like there is ever a game that you can take lightly, but I’m really not worried about this one. I hope I’m not jinxing the team. I’m actually more interested in the following storylines:
– Will UK be able to put Auburn away early if they get out to a double digit lead?
– How will Eric Bledsoe perform in his follow-up to the incredible show he put on at Florida?
– Will Darius Miller build on his showing at Florida by staying aggressive instead of turning into a bystander?
– Who will be the star off the bench for this game? Orton was fantastic against Florida. Will it be a repeat performance or will someone else step up?
Finally, to wrap it up, a few quotes from Calipari and some players, from ukathletics.com:
“I watched the first half of (Auburn’s game against) Tennessee. I saw them beat Virginia. Every time I see a tape I get scared, because whatever you see in that team, you have to take it up two notches. They are a team that is going to shoot 30-35 three’s. If they make 20, it’s been a nice start to our season. They are going to shoot them and it’s not like we are going to stop them from shooting them. We saw Florida make some ridiculous shots and get back in the game. For the game they shot 29.6%, but they hit three or four in a row to get them back in the game. They may double team, they may make us shoot three’s or they may play zone. They played a lot of man against Tennessee, but they may come at us like everybody else and play 40 minutes of zone.”
On Darnell Dodson…
“It’s more about are you willing to guard people, get rough, go get rebounds and play a tough game. If you do that, you don’t worry about that other stuff. It’s all a toughness you must play with, and if you don’t, you aren’t going to play here. He is doing it. Last game he played tougher, he came up with balls. He got a little lazy on some passes and stuff. But, he is playing. Every day, I either make him guard John Wall or Eric (Bledsoe). I tell him if he can guard those two, he can guard anybody we play.”
On losing leads and letting teams come back…
“I showed them tape of three games where we let people back in the game. I showed clip by clip, and then I went to where we made runs. There is a market difference in their defensive intensity, shot selection, aggressiveness in attacking defense. They see the difference and they need to carry it over. They are a young team.”
On Coach Cal saying he should be more aggressive…
“It hasn’t been real tough or anything, and no one has been real negative, coach has just been telling me what he needs me to do.”
On contributing at a crucial time during the Florida game…
“We all just try to take advantage of our opportunities. A lot of the time John (Wall) and DeMarcus (Cousins) are getting double-teamed, and we just happen to be open because somebody forgets about us, so we just have to be ready to play every time the opportunity hits us.”
On if he finds himself saying he needs to get out of John’s way…
“At times, because I think he does a great job helping us out when they are being aggressive and scoring a lot of points, so when that does happen I think it is better for all of us.”
On if it is tough to defer to someone else when he is not showing as much aggressiveness that coach wants…
“Yes at times it is tough, especially with the amount of talent we have on this team. Patrick (Patterson) is an All-American, John (Wall) too, and DeMarcus (Cousins) has been doing a really good job scoring and dominating in games. So at times it is tough to get out of that habit.”
On if he likes playing on the road…
“Yeah I like playing on the road a lot because the fans go crazy when the No. 2 team in the nation comes into their gym, and everyone wonders what John (Wall) is going to do. Then that is when everyone else on the team steps up.”
On what it was like in Gainesville to play…
“It was fun, because all their players were sagging, and that let us have a chance to penetrate and do what we can do.”
On coach having him bring the ball up, and if it affects the play of everyone else …
“It doesn’t affect us that much, I just learn from it. Bringing the ball up is part of my position, so I do what I need to do to try to help lead the team. When John (Wall) isn’t in, I do my best to help lead the team.”
That’s it folks. Unfortunately, I won’t get to watch this one, because the game is not being carried out here in Utah, so one of the other guys will be back tomorrow for the post game breakdown. I’ll be following the game on-line. Go Cats!