The Wildcats pulled out a 72-67 SEC basketball victory as Auburn fell to 0-3 in the Southeastern Conference and 9-9 overall. Kentucky, ranked number two nationally, continued its best start since the 1965-66 season by improving to 18-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC.
The Tigers, who trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half, rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit with strong defense and good shooting.
Auburn hit 16-29 second half field goals (55.2 percent) and forced 10 second half UK turnovers.
"I saw a lot of heart out of my teammates," sophomore guard Frankie Sullivan said. "I think the first half we played a little tentative--we didn't play team ball."
Sullivan said the second half was a different story with the Tigers taking the fight to the Wildcats.
"Kentucky is very hard to play," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "I thought our kids did a great job, really battled and really competed.
"In the second half defensively, I thought we were awfully crisp," Lebo added.
The Auburn coach said he was impressed by Kentucky's size and athletic ability. "They are so long," he said. "They blocked some when we were already by them.
"Obviously, the big difference in the game was at the foul line," Lebo said. "They got to the line 27 times in the first half. I think that is the most I have been involved with." For the game the Wildcats made 23-35 free throws. Auburn hit 8-14.
Commenting on Auburn's comeback after intermission, Lebo said, "I told the team we played the second half as good as we have played all year. I think we really took them out of the flow. Hopefully, that gives the kids some confidence. We need some confidence. Our crowd was great. I wish we could have it every game. That crowd gives you energy."
A turnout of 11,669, the first sellout of the season, watched the game. "I know the kids, the players and coaches really appreciate the number of people who came out to watch," Lebo said.
Sullivan, who had two of Auburn's 10 steals and scored 15 points, praised the crowd, too. "It's like an imaginary sixth man," he said. "When we go on the road, we see that a lot of times. Our fans don't support us like that all of the time. I wish they would. It brings a lot of energy. It turns me on. I am ready to play every game, but the crowd just gives you a boost like an energy drink. Hopefully, they come out more. We really need it."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he was impressed with the way the Tigers played in the second half. "Auburn beat us to 50-50 balls," he pointed out. "If they had made a couple of threes down the stretch they would have beat us."
DeWayne Reed led all scorers with 19 points despite a dreadful start offensively as he missed his first 10 field goals. Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson said it was Reed's emergence offensively in the second half that sparked Auburn's comeback even though the senior guard made just 7-25 shots.
Lebo noted that the Wildcats did a good job of preventing Sullivan plus senior Tay Waller, Auburn's best outside shooter, from getting scoring opportunities, while Reed's quickness allowed him to get more shot opportunities against the quick Kentucky guards. Waller was just 1-4 from the field. Sullivan hit 6-9 overall, including 3-5 treys, in just 22 minutes of playing time due to his foul issues.
Lucas Hargrove scored 10 points for the Tigers. He added four rebounds, two assists, two steals and had four turnovers in 38 minutes of action.
Lucas Hargrove drives around Patrick Patterson.
The leading scorer off the bench for the Tigers was Brendon Knox with seven. Andre Malone led the Tigers in rebounds with nine in a reserve role while scoring six points. Lebo pointed out that the freshman provided a major boost to the Tigers in 24 minutes of action partly because of early foul trouble with Sullivan. "Andre was terrific," he said.
The Tigers went to work early in the second half at cutting into the UK lead. Auburn cut the gap to 53-52 with 10:39 to play on an acrobatic layup by Sullivan as the crowd got heavily involved in the action.
After UK extended the lead to six, the Tigers pulled even at 60-60 on a three-pointer by Sullivan with 8:25 left to play. However, the Wildcats, who shot 52.4 percent in the second half, responded to the challenge and moved ahead again even though the Tigers stayed with them like a bad cold.
Auburn still had a chance to win the game into the last minute. Trailing 70-67, Auburn set up a play for Waller to get a three-point shot with 36.3 seconds left. However, the senior guard couldn't get open and a shot by Knox was blocked out of bounds.
The Tigers again tried to get Waller a shot, but Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins ran through a screen like a "football player," Lebo noted, ruining the play. Reed got the look from three-point range, but missed.
DeWayne Reed shoots for a three to tie the game in the closing seconds.
"It was a great look," Reed said. "I just have to put the ball in."
The Wildcats grabbed the rebound and closed out the Tigers with Wall making two free throws.
DeMarcus Cousins, a freshman from Mobile who attended four different high schools, led the Wildcats with a double-double. He made 5-6 field goals, 6-10 foul shots, blocked four shots, added three assists on the way to scoring 16 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Freshman Eric Bledsoe from Birmingham scored 13 for the Wildcats.
Calipari said he was pleased that his two players from the state of Alabama played well, something he noted is normally not the case for what he called a homecoming situation. "Anytime I have ever brought players home they stink," he said.
Kentucky got 13 points from Wall, but Auburn's quickness bothered him as he turned the ball over seven times.
Patterson was the fourth Kentucky player to score in double figures with 12. "We had a lead and they kept battling and they never went away," Patterson said. "Reed got hot in the second half and his team kept feeding the ball. He was hitting shots. He got them started early and then their big man down low (Knox) started hitting shots.
Kentucky's size and athleticism were the major factors in the first half. The Wildcats jumped out to an 8-2 lead and took a 39-26 advantage in to the locker room at intermission.
Auburn was dominated on the boards in the first half by the Wildcats who pulled down 27 rebounds to 14 for the Tigers. For the game UK's margin was 34-30.
UK also had a big edge in first half shooting hitting 50 percent (11-22) from the field compared to 29.0 percent (9-31) for the Tigers.
Jeff Lebo calls out a play to his team on Saturday.
Auburn helped its cause by turning the ball over only three times in the first half to six for Kentucky. For the game the Tigers had 12 turnovers, four fewer than the Wildcats.
Kentucky got to the foul line 27 times in the first half, but made just 16. Auburn shot just six foul shots in the first half and made three. Lebo said that he couldn't remember being part of a game in which a team got 27 foul shots in a first half.
The Tigers return to action on Wednesday at 7 p.m. vs. LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
News and Notes: The Wildcats will hold a telethon on Sunday to raise money for Haiti relief. UK players will be part of the crew of operators answering telephones soliciting donations to help survivors of the tragedy in the Caribbean. Calipari is donating a dinner for six UK fans at his home and other items to help the cause...Sophomore forward Kenny Gabriel suffered an ankle sprain. Lebo said he isn't certain how long the first-year Tiger will be out of action. Gabriel left the arena on crutches...Calipari had praise for Auburn's crowd. "I thought the arena was great and we were fortunate to win today," he said...Actress Ashley Judd was among the fans at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum wearing her UK colors.