Hustling Tigers Battle Wildcats to the Finish

Lexington, Ky.--Toney Douglas scored 21 second-half points as Auburn played step for step with Kentucky in front of 23,043 at Rupp Arena for much of the game, but the talent and depth of the Wildcats was too strong as UK pulled out a 81-73 SEC basketball victory Wednesday night.

"We went toe-to-toe and made it interesting down the stretch," said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. "We had a good practice yesterday and we got after them, played good and competed hard. Kentucky gets everybody's best shot and we played well. We got them playing our game. We made some shots and they had trouble defending and we spread them out."

The Tigers out-rebounded Kentucky 40-35, including 21-12 on the offensive glass, and committed only one more turnover (13-12). However, the Tigers shot only 35.8 percent from the floor, which was not good enough to upset the nation's No. 5 ranked team when UK was shooting 51.0 percent from the field.

"We were real surprised to out-rebound them because they've got 6-8, 6-10 and 7-3, and we've got 6-6 as our big man," freshman guard Douglas said. "I'm proud of that and I'm happy that we out-rebounded them. That means we played with heart."

Auburn finished with 20 second chance points, which upset Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "When you get 21 offensive rebounds and 21 second chances like that you can do a lot of damage," Smith said. "That's definitely a concern. We're doing a good job of making the initial stop. The second and third time we're just not getting there. We've got to improve on that."

Quinnel Brown works on the baseline vs. UK's Randolph Morris

One area of concern for the Tigers is that they sent the Wildcats to the free throw line 33 times. Kentucky scored 23 of its 81 points from the line, including 18 in the second half. The Tigers managed to keep the game close by making 12 three-pointers, doubling UK's total.

Auburn trailed by seven points early in the second half at 43-36, but Douglas connected on three three-pointers and scored Auburn's next 11 points to cut the deficit to one at 50-49.

"I just had to keep moving and keep working because in the first half I was standing around and that was easy for them to guard me," Douglas said. "In the second half I went to work and started hitting my shots."

Douglas scored 21 points in the game--all in the second half.

"He was very effective and he's a scorer," Smith said. "You had better find him and you'd better get on him. He scored in transition and there were times we left him open. They were skipping the ball across the court and getting open shots."

A pair of free throws by Quinnel Brown tied the game at 51-51, but Auburn failed to take the lead in the second half. With five reserves on the court for Smith, the Wildcats stretched the lead to 69-57 with 4:05 left to play.

"Coach Smith, I know he got mad and put his starters on the bench," Douglas said. "We don't have a lot of depth and we got tired at the end."

The Tigers kept fighting and cut the deficit to six points with 1:39 remaining, but Kentucky made nine consecutive free throws down the stretch to hold off Auburn's surge.

Five of those free throws were by junior forward Kelenna Azubuike, who finished with a career-high 30 points and 11 rebounds.

"He's a good player," Douglas said of Azubuike. "He's very athletic, he's strong and he's got the total package. He's a real good athlete and he played well tonight."

Azubuike made 9-17 shots from the floor, 9-11 from the foul line and 3-5 on threes.

Douglas, who has been in a scoring slump in recent games, said that tonight's performance by Auburn was something to build on for all of the young players on the squad.

"It was fun," he said. "I like the atmosphere. We knew we were going to compete with them. They thought they were going to run over us, but we had a lot of heart tonight to be able to compete. They just pulled out the win. We made some mistakes that hurt us."

Azubuike led all scorers in the first half with 16 points on 6-10 shooting. Freshman center Randolph Morris had eight points at the half on 4-4 shooting. As a team, the Wildcats made 14-26 shots for 53.8 percent, but made only 5-10 foul shots as Kentucky held a 36-32 halftime lead.

Ian Young was Auburn's leading scorer and rebounder at halftime with 10 points and five boards. Despite a huge size mismatch Auburn used its quickness and hustle to out-rebound Kentucky 19-16 in the first 20 minutes of the game.

Turnovers were even at eight apiece and the Tigers used eight offensive boards and eight second chance points to hold the deficit at four despite making only 11-31 shots for 35.5 percent.

"They had to go small and there were parts in the game they didn't have a huge advantage inside," Lebo said. "When they started going inside to (Chuck) Hayes and Morris we had problems.

"They started out great and made shots, but I was really proud of how we fought back and got it to even," he added.

For the Wildcats, Hayes had 13 points and six rebounds and Morris had 12 points on 5-6 shooting from the floor.

Nathan Watson finished with 15 points, eight rebounds--six of which were offensive--and three assists. Young had 12 points, six boards and three assists, and Brown played tough inside with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Led by 5-9 three-point shooting by Douglas, Auburn hit 12-28 for the game for 42.9 percent. The Tigers also shot well from the foul line, making 13-15. Kentucky made 6-16 three pointers for 37.5 percent.

The loss drops Auburn to 12-14 overall and 3-10 in SEC play. Kentucky is now 21-3 overall and 12-1 in the league.

Auburn returns home on Saturday at 3 p.m. for a rematch against the LSU Tigers, who beat Auburn 90-69 in Baton Rouge on Feb. 9. The game will be televised by JP Sports.

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