Auburn turned up the defensive intensity in the closing minutes and had a chance to pull out a victory, but the Wildcats dropped the Tigers to 2-6 in the SEC and 12-9 overall, giving Jeff Lebo's team its fourth straight loss. The Wildcats, now winners of four straight, improved to 5-2 in the conference and 11-9 overall.
A three-point shot by sophomore point guard DeWayne Reed in the closing seconds to put Auburn ahead was off-target. Lucas Hargrove's long-range shot to beat the buzzer and tie the game was off target and ended a frustrating night for the home team.
"We put ourselves in a position to win the game and just couldn't do it," said Lebo, whose team forced 24 UK turnovers, but couldn't overcome 66.7 percent field goal shooting by the Wildcats. Kentucky only missed 13 of its 39 field goals and was 6-10 on threes.
The last few minutes of the game provided plenty of intensity and excitement. Kentucky took a 10-point lead with 10:06 left and the Wildcats kept the lead close to that mark until Auburn began to crawl back into striking range in the final minutes.
With 3:44 left, Quan Prowell tipped in a missed Reed shot and, on the ensuing in-bounds play, Auburn forced a five-second call. With 1:50 left, Auburn had made it a 62-57 game after two made free throws by Frank Tolbert.
Auburn's pressure defense then forced Joe Crawford to step into the backcourt for another turnover and Prowell was fouled on Auburn's next possession. He made one of the free throws.
Auburn couldn't capitalize on its next possession and was forced to foul. Patrick Patterson, who scored 19 points and added eight rebounds for UK, made both of his free throws, but Rasheem Barrett hit a three to bring the Tigers within one possession at 64-61 with 29.5 seconds left.
Reed hit a layup off of a turnover to bring the game within one and was knocked to the floor on the play, but UK got a huge break when no foul was called.
UK's Ramon Harris was then fouled with 14 seconds left as the Wildcats just avoided a 10-second violation. He missed one of his free throws, giving Auburn a chance to take the lead.
Reed then took his time getting the ball up the court and didn't pass. He threw up a three-pointer from past the top of the circle that was off target. Patterson was fouled on the rebound by Frank Tolbert with three seconds left and made the first of his foul shots and missed the second. Hargrove's half-court shot then flew over the basket.
Lebo said he had no problem with Reed taking the shot for the win. He wanted the point guard to have the ball in his hands.
"We went 1-4 low to let Reed go one-on-one," Lebo said. "They were switching any kind of ball screens so we didn't want to bring up another guy for a switch-out to put a bigger guy on him because we were having a hard time finishing at the rim. So that was it. In the last seconds, we wanted Reed to go one-on-one from the top. That was a play that we run, a clear-out, one-on-one play."
Compounding AU's problems against a hot-shooting UK team was the fact the Tigers made just 40.8 percent of their shots from the field and 27.8 on their threes.
"We didn't shoot the ball well from three and that hurt us," said Lebo, whose team made just 5-18 treys. "We missed a couple of key ones--our kids battled at the end though and competed and got the steals.
"I thought DeWayne got hammered on the layup and then we get a little unlucky--we have a trap in the corner and another trap in the corner, the guy is falling down and it's getting ready to be a 10-second count and he just slings it almost like it was hockey,--he just iced it and they get one on the other end with a foul."
Frank Tolbert takes the basketball inside vs. Kentucky on Wednesday night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
The Tigers gave the home crowd something to cheer about on the defensive end by forcing 24 turnovers while committing half that amount.
"I thought Kentucky shot the ball very well when they didn't turn the ball over," Lebo said. "When they got shots they made 67 percent for the game and 60 from three. Patterson was hard for us to defend in there. Quan for the most part had to do it the whole game and I think he did a pretty good job."
Patterson,a 6-8, 232 freshmen, forced Prowell to try to be physical in the post on defense while also carrying the scoring load. The Auburn senior scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds, had three steals and a block. Prowell also noted he was drained from playing 40 minutes of physical basketball.
"He did a great job, I thought," Lebo said of Prowell. "He battled hard. Patterson works constantly. I thought the first 10 minutes of the game weren't quite as good, but from there on out I thought he did an excellent job."
Poor passing and bad decisions hurt Auburn on the offensive side of the ball in the first half. Auburn shot 46.2 percent from the field and turned the ball over six times. Prowell got involved early, scoring 12 first half points. Defensively, the Tigers were scrappy, allowing just 34 points despite the Wildcats making 68.4 percent of their shots.
Kentucky led virtually the entire half except for the start and the end of the period when a Hargrove three tied the score at 34-34.
Auburn closed the gap in the first half after Kentucky's coach, Billy Gillespe, drew a technical foul with 1:55 left and Tolbert was able to hit one of the free throws. Barrett tied the score on the next possession, making the Wildcats pay for the technical.
The Tigers also had a strong finish in the second half.
"I wish we could play the whole game like we did at the end," Lebo said. "But we just don't have the depth to do that."
Kentucky got 19 points from guard Crawford, but played without another key guard, Ramel Bradley, who is out with a concussion.
"We got after them because they didn't have their point guard, they had (Derrick) Jasper who was trying to take over a little bit there. (Michael) Porter had foul problems and they had to use Crawford there a little bit and our quickness bothered them, our doubles bothered them at the end of the game.
"Sometimes when you get up like that, you get a tentative trying to run out the clock and you get a little tentative against the double-teams. I thought they were a little bit tentative and we got some steals, we got some deflections and we got some buckets down there at the other end."
The Tigers got 12 points from Barrett, 11 from Quantez Robertson and 10 from Tolbert while Reed scored five as did Hargrove.
UK out-rebounded Auburn 27-20 and hit 8-12 foul shots while the Tigers were 18-25 at the foul line.