Auburn Can't Overcome UK Defense

The Tigers suffered their first SEC loss of the season vs. the Wildcats.

Lexington, Ky.--Two scoring slumps and too many turnovers were too much to overcome as the host Wildcats handed Auburn its first SEC defeat, taking a 67-51 decision on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena.

The 24th-ranked Tigers led eighth-ranked Kentucky much of the first half, but an 11-2 Wildcat run to close the first half changed the momentum.

Auburn managed to regroup and regained the lead near the halfway point of the second half, but another Wildcat run put the game away.

Going into the game, Coach Cliff Ellis said his Auburn team needed to shoot well and keep the turnovers to a minimum. Auburn did neither. The Tigers committed 26 turnovers and hit just 36.1 percent of their field goals, including just two of 14 three-point shots.

"They forced them, they play right up in you," Ellis said of the turnovers. "That to me is their strongest asset, as is ours. I think both teams' strongest asset is how well and how hard we play defense. The game was going to be a 60s game, the reason they had higher 60s was (Gerald) Fitch. The reason we had the 50s was turnovers."

Auburn fell to 4-1 in the SEC and 15-3 overall. Auburn's winning streak was snapped at nine-in-a-row while the Wildcats won their eighth straight game to improve to 4-0 in the conference and 14-3 overall.

Marco Killingsworth

The Tigers got a strong performance from sophomore forward Marco Killingsworth, who scored 19 points. He was 4-5 from the field and 11-12 at the free throw line. Marquis Daniels added 11 points for the Tigers. Daniels struggled with his shooting, hitting just 5-14 field goals. He managed five steals, but turned the ball over seven times.

We're a young team and we made some mental mistakes tonight," Killingsworth said. "The crowd got loud and we couldn't hear things coming from the bench at times. (Gerald) Fitch hit a couple of threes and the crowd got behind them. They were making threes and we were making twos, and that doesn't add up. I don't think we got rattled, but we're young and Kentucky has a great team. We need to execute better on our press offense."

Kentucky shot 42.3 as four players scored in double figures led by 16 from guard Gerald Fitch. Jules Camara and Keith Bogans added 13 apiece and Cliff Hawkins scored five.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith had high praise for the aggressive defensive job that reserve Cliff Hawkins did on Auburn's point guards. He also contributed a season-high 10 points.

"He is controlling the tempo and not allowing the opposing team's point guard to get them into their offense," Smith said. "He makes them start their offense higher, farther from the basket and it helps our post players play better defense. I thought early on, that was a problem. When he came into the the game that was we saw--limited touches inside. Our defense was obviously inspired."

Kentucky held Auburn to its low point output of the season, one shy of the 52 the Tigers score in winning by 15 at Arkansas. Auburn's 26 turnovers were a season worst, but Auburn's 38-24 rebounding edge was the largest against the Wildcats this season.

Daniels contributed eight rebounds for the Tigers while Killingsworth had seven and Brandon Robinson got six in a reserve role.

Auburn took a quick 2-0 lead on an inside basket by Killingsworth, who scored eight of Auburn's first 10 points. The Tigers moved ahead to a 12-5 lead at the 13:18 mark on a tip-in by Brandon Robinson.

The Wildcats then scored seven straight points to tie the game at 12-12 at the 10:32 mark on a three-pointer by Hawkins. Auburn built the lead to 18-14 before the Wildcats moved ahead 22-20 on a pair of free throws by Bogans with 4:33 to play. The Tigers managed to score only one more time the rest of the half and trailed 29-22 at intermission.

Auburn steadily battled back in the second half. Back to back baskets by Bird cut the Kentucky lead to 32-31 at 15:48. Auburn took a brief lead on a three-pointer by Daniels at the top of the circle, putting AU up 38-37 with 12:22 left in the game.

The Wildcats took the lead back on an inside move by Erik Daniels at the 11:37 mark and never trailed. Auburn scored at the 10:14 mark on a pair of Killingsworth free throws cut the UK lead to 42-40, but three baskets by Fitch helped the Wildcats stretch the lead to 55-40 at the 5:58 mark before the Tigers scored again.

"Gerald came through with some big shots that I thought really broke it open for us," Smith said.

"I struggled in the first half and I was critical of myself, and that made me force my shot," Fitch said. "In the second half, I just tried to stay positive and do what I know I can and I got my confidence back."

Auburn's Ellis said a plus 14 rebound edge was good for his team, but was not nearly enough to overcome the turnover problem. Kentucky's Smith said Auburn's athletic inside players caused the Wildcats problems on the boards.

The Tigers return to action on Saturday at Georgia. Tipoff time is noon CST and the game will be televised regionally by Jefferson Pilot Sports.

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