Lexington, Ky.--No. 1 ranked Kentucky’s defense was as suffocating as advertised and the Wildcats dealt the visiting Auburn Tigers a triple dose of misery with a dominating performance offensively and on the boards during a 110-75 SEC basketball victory on Saturday night.
The Wildcats improved to 27-0 overall and 14-0 in the SEC while Auburn dropped a second straight contest to fall to 12-15 overall and 4-10 in the SEC. Kentucky made nearly two out of every three field goal attempts vs. the smaller Tigers.
The Wildcats put six players into double figures in the scoring column to easily trump a big scoring night from Antoine Mason, who finished with his Auburn season-best of 29 points. Mason hit 9-16 field goals, 5-6 threes and 6-7 free throws.
The Tigers got 17 points from K.T. Harrell with 15 coming in the second half from the senior guard, who hit 6-12 field goals and 3-6 treys.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Wildcats with 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Aaron Harrison scored 18 for UK.
As a team the Wildcats finished the night with 44 rebounds to 22 for the visitors to Rupp Arena. That helped the Wildcats take a 21-7 edge in second-chance points to go with a huge 62-24 advantage for points in the paint.
“We didn’t play well and as a result we were no match for Kentucky,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who noted the Tigers didn’t do a good job of executing the game plan either defensively or offensively.
“We didn’t defend guys, we did not compete so I am disappointed in that,” Pearl said. “Kentucky is a great team, a talented team, but obviously they manhandled us on the defensive end and we had no answers for them.”
The coach wasn’t totally displeased with what he saw. “Antoine Mason was terrific offensively,” he said. “K.T. did what he did and made shots.”
Pearl said the offensive game plan was for the guards to penetrate Kentucky’s defense and then pass the ball to shooters behind the three-point line, which is something the Tigers didn’t do enough of until the game was out of reach. The coach noted that there wasn’t enough defensive help for his two post players, Cinmeon Bowers and Trayvon Reed.
It didn’t take long for UK’s superior size and athleticism to become obvious. The Wildcats scored nine points before the Tigers got on the scoreboard when a Mason layup was goal-tended.
The Tigers didn’t score again until Malcolm Canada hit a pair of free throws to make the score 23-4.
Kentucky then built the lead to 30-4 before the Tigers got a boost from Mason, who took up the scoring slack with the Wildcats doing a good job of covering Auburn’s leading scorer, Harrell.
Auburn’s other double figures scorer, Bowers, was overmatched by the Kentucky’s substantial size advantage near the rim. He finished with six points and a team-high five rebounds.
Mason scored 15 first half points. Other than K.C. Ross-Miller with three, no other Auburn players scored more than two points in the opening half. Ross-Miller finished the game with nine points.
Halftime Numbers: The Wildcats doubled the Tigers in points (52-26) and field goal shooting percentage (62-31) while dominating on the boards with 26 rebounds to 10 for the Tigers. Mason led the Tigers by hitting 5-9 field goals, 3-4 threes and 2-3 free throws. in the opening period.
Auburn played much better offensively in the second half, hitting 16-31 field goals in the period and 8-12 threes to finish with 11-19 for the game. However, the Tigers had no answer for UK’s size, rebounding and good shooting.
On what steadied them in the second half ... "I mean, we were supposed to start off like that. When you get down that much, you're just trying to make it respectable. And we talked about it at halftime that we just have to fight (and) we just have to compete. We didn't do that in the first half. I think we did do that a little bit in the second half but we just have to get better."
Asked why the Tigers struggled so much, Mason said, "Their size played a factor. We got pushed around from every position and it just took a toll on us. They had a huge lead in the first half and trying to come back is tough."
Pearl said that while scoring 75 points was a "positive" for the Tigers, looking at the game as a whole he was not please. "I am not happy with my team and that hasn't happened a lot this year," he said.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he was pleased with his post play from both Towns and Dakari Johnson, who came off the bench to contribute 13 points and six rebounds. He pointed out his team finished the game with 25 assists, a sign the Wildcats are improving their team concept of play offensively.
Calipari said the game plan was to contain Mason, Harrell and Bowers. "The whole idea was you have got to be on these three," he said. "They can score and they can score in bunches, and they did. Mason had 29 and could have had more. Harrell scored 17. Those two can play with anybody in our league and when they felt they could make baskets, and when they got into a comfort level, they made shots.
"If you didn't guard them, they were going to make shots," the coach added. "I watched them against Mississippi and they had them beat. They beat LSU. I watched all their tapes. They have been in every game they played and had a chance to win every (SEC) game until this one so we got them pretty good today. They hit us on a tough day. We were working on all cylinders and really guarding."
Antoine Mason comes up with a jump ball as K.T. Harrell signals the call.
For the game the Tigers hit 25-60 field goals (41.7 percent) and 14-26 free throws. Kentucky hit 44-68 field goals (68.7 percent), 6-17 threes and 16-23 free throws.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn was just the third team to score 70 or more points vs. the Wildcats this season, who were giving up an average of ust 51 per contest. Kentucky topped the 100 points mark for the first time this season.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Kentucky is known for its bench strength and that showed up in the final statistics with the Wildcat subs outscoring Auburn’s subs 43-10.
More From Pearl: "What they do offensively as far as pounding it inside, there's nobody in the league who's even close to that," the Auburn coach said. "It's the biggest team in the country against a team that is very small. We're probably the smallest team in the league, but I didn't think we competed or represented very well. And they had 15 defensive rebounds and they had 12 offensive rebounds so pretty much they just had their way. I would've liked to see a little more toughness from our team."
Up Next: The Tigers play their next to last home game of the season as they try to sweep the season series vs. LSU. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.