“We had a little fatigue and we tried to play through it, but that is no excuse,” said Auburn senior K.T. Harrell. “We fought. A lot of guys played a lot of heavy minutes, but we gave it everything we’ve got and that is what we did.”
The contest was Auburn’s fourth in four days while the semi-finals round matchup was game two for the Wildcats in Nashville, who earned a double-bye into the tournament where they will play for the championship on Sunday.
“Kentucky did a good job of guarding everybody, but it wasn’t like we didn’t get good looks--especially me, but you have got to take them.”
Harrell, who led his team to three wins in the tournament, scored 13 points, but hit just 1-12 field goals and was 0-6 on three-pointers.
Prior to tipoff Auburn issued a statement that its top rebounder would not play. It read: “Cinmeon Bowers has been suspended for Saturday’s SEC Tournament semifinal game against Kentucky, head coach Bruce Pearl has announced. Pearl was made aware of a potential rules violation following Friday’s win over LSU. Auburn and the basketball staff will have no further comment on the matter as they continue to gather facts.”
After the game, Pearl said, “The decision was made this morning and I hope that when we complete the investigation we are okay.”
Granger, who was charged with a flagrant two foul in the quarter-finals win over LSU, had to sit out for an automatic one-game suspension.
Malcolm Canada drives to the basket vs. the Wildcats.
Even more of an issue than the rebounding was Auburn’s shooting. The Tigers hit just 18-54 field goals for 33.3 percent and were 6-20 on threes. To have a chance to hang with the Wildcats the Tigers needed to have a big day shooting the ball and that didn’t happen.
UK used its size advantage to hit 27-48 field goals for 56.3. The Wildcats made 7-14 threes and 30-35 free throws while Auburn made 35-34 free throws.
“I am just proud of everybody,” Harrell said. “Nobody really expected us to be here. I am not even really upset about it. It hurts to lose, but I feel like we really shocked everybody.”
Auburn ended its season with a 15-20 record as the Tigers made their first run to the SEC Tournament semi-finals since winning the 1985 championship.
Kentucky, a likely No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, improved to 33-0 and set a record for the longest winning streak in UK history.
Auburn scored the first two points of the game, but it didn’t take the taller and more talented Wildcats long to take control of the contest. The Wildcats scored 15 straight points.
Antoine Mason led the Tigers in the first half as K.T. Harrell struggled with his shooting, not hitting any of his six field goal attempts, five which were for threes.
Halftime Numbers: Auburn hit 7-25 field goals for 28 percent and 1-11 threes while making 14-17 foul shots. The Wildcats hit 15-26 field goals for 57.7 percent, 4-9 threes and 13-15 foul shots. The Wildcats led 17-12 in rebounds and each team finished the first 20 minutes with four turnovers.
Auburn out-played the Wildcats in the early minutes of the second half, but Kentucky’s size and depth helped the No. 1 seed outscore the Tigers 44-38.
In the final minute Pearl pulled Harrell and the rest of the seniors, who got an ovation from the Bridgestone Arena crowd for their effort.
After the game Pearl said that the seniors did a good job of helping lay a foundation for future success. Harrell said that is a good legacy for him to leave. “They are going to have a way better season that we had this year,” Harrell predicted of the 2015-16 team. “It is truly a blessing.”
Willie Cauley-Stein led Kentucky with 18 points and seven rebounds. Andrew Harrison added 15 points.
Pearl said this year's Kentucky team is the best he has ever coached against.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Walk-on Devin Waddell made his first college start with Granger and Bowers not available to play. He scored two points and pulled in five rebounds in 27 minutes. The Tigers also used freshman center Trayvon Reed, who played 13 minutes and finished with two rebounds and one point.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Canada’s 16 points were his career-high in his two seasons with the Tigers.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Auburn’s 25 free throws and 34 attempts were highs this season by Kentucky’s opponents.Part 2, Auburn-Kentucky Postgame Notes