Horace Spencer (above) scores vs. the Wildcats.
Lexington, Ky.--Kentucky answered a second half run by the visiting Auburn Tigers before pulling away late for a 92-72 SEC basketball victory on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats used good shooting from the field and a strong rebounding effort to stay unbeaten in the SEC (5-0) and improve to 15-2 overall.
Despite a career-high 23 points from senior guard T.J. Dunans, who made his first start of the season, the Tigers fell to 11-6 overall and 1-4 in the SEC.
Dunans led a second half rally for the Tigers, who cut the margin to four at the 12:35 mark on a basket by Horace Spencer to trim the lead to 60-56, but the Wildcats were able to get the margin back into double figures at 70-59.
Auburn cut the lead to eight points at the 7:23 mark, but that was as close as the Tigers would get the rest of the game.
Dunans hit 10-20 field goals, 2-3 treys while adding two rebounds and one assist. “I guess it was Kentucky--I just had to step it up,” Dunans said when asked why he had his best game of the season. “I know they are one of the top teams in the country.”
T.J. Dunans looks to pass the basketball vs. the Wildcats.
The senior guard, starting in place of injured Danjel Purifoy, said the Tigers left the court disappointed they didn’t find a way to upset the Wildcats, but noted it should give the team confidence it can compete with anybody on the schedule.
Freshman guard Mustapha Heron was the only other Auburn scorer in double figures with 11 points.
Kentucky got 24 points from dynamic freshman guard Malik Monk and 15 points from freshman center Bam Adebayo, who added eight rebounds. Wenyen Gabriel was a big factor in the Wildcats ?leading the battle on the boards 40-28 as he personally grabbed 15 rebounds
The Wildcats made 32-56 field goals (57.1 percent) while Auburn hit 29-62 (46.8 percent). Both teams struggled at the foul line. UK made 17-32 while Auburn made 5-15.
“I thought we did a good job of getting to the rim, I? thought we did a good job of beating Kentucky’s initial defense,” Coach Bruce Pearl said. “I thought we got too many shots blocked (six) and I don’t think we made enough passes to the perimeter.
“I thought when our guys drove downhill, T.J. Dunans, Jared (Harper) or Mustapha, guys were open on the perimeter. I think we could have gotten more shots kicking it out and got more three-balls.”
Both teams shot the ball well in the first half. Auburn’s problem was the Wildcats outscored the Tigers by six points at the free throw line in the first 20 minutes while hitting eight three-pointers while the Tigers made four.
The Wildcats led 51-39 at the break after hitting 18-31 field goals while Auburn made 17-34. The Tigers were 4-7 on threes and 1-2 at the foul while the home team made 8-12 treys and 7-13 free throws.
Auburn led for two minutes and 23 seconds in the first half with the largest margin 13-10 at the 15:15 mark, but Kentucky went on a 10-0 run and never trailed after that.
Bruce Pearl's team will be back at Auburn for its next two games after back-to-back road games at Missouri and Kentucky.
Kentucky built the lead to 58-44 in the second half before Dunans scored a dozen quick points with the help of a pair of threes as the Tigers cut the lead to four points. However, that was as close as Auburn would get the rest of game.
Pearl said he was pleased with he saw from the senior guard. “T.J. Dunans had a major impact on that game,” the coach said. “I am happy for him.”
The coach said he told his team at halftime that he thought they could rally in the second half and win the game. “This team is getting better, this team is competing,” he said.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn was called for 31 fouls, 13 more than the home team. Freshman center Austin Wiley fouled out after playing just 12 minutes. “His fouls were pretty cheap,” Pearl said of the officiating. “I?thought he did a great job inside.”
Ronnie Johnson looks for an opening in Kentucky's defense.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Auburn outscored UK 38-36 for points in the paint and 14-10 on second chance points.
Stat of the Game: The Wildcats missed just 24 of their 56 field goal attempts, a sharp contrast to last year’s game in Auburn when they missed 47 field goals and shot 34.7 percent.
Up Next: The Tigers will be host to a 7:30 p.m. game on Wednesday vs. LSU.