Cats rally, thwart Auburn's upset bid

Kentucky shot 31 percent from the field, but rode dominant rebounding and second-chance points to a 64-56 win Wednesday night at Auburn.

Persistence bailed out the Wildcats on The Plains.

Kentucky shot a season-low 30.9 percent from the floor and missed 15 of its 40 free throw attempts on Wednesday at Auburn, but dominated the glass with 22 offensive rebounds leading to 21 second-chance points in a 64-56 victory over the upset-minded Tigers.

"We're still a ways away, but I love road wins, and I love when you shoot 30 percent and win. Imagine that? Crazy," said UK coach John Calipari, whose No. 14 Wildcats improved to 19-5 overall and 9-2 in SEC play. "But we played down the stretch and fought. That's who we're supposed to be."

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"At the end of the day, they made more winning plays," said Auburn coach Tony Barbee, a former Calipari player and assistant coach at UMass. "That doesn't mean they made more shots. They made more winning plays. Offensive rebounds, more loose balls, defensive rebounds and some big shots on top of it."

Freshman forward Julius Randle notched his 12th double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead the Wildcats. He had eight of those points and six of the rebounds after UK had fallen behind 38-35 with 11:29 to play.

"He wasted a half," Calipari said. "Again, he's tying too much stuff to his offense... The second half, Julius played the way he needs to play. See, the picture he has of himself is not the picture he needs to play with. He needs to see that second half (as the type of player he is)."

Kentucky also got 16 points from freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, 10 points from twin brother Aaron Harrison and eight points and eight rebounds from freshman center Dakari Johnson.

"Dakari was great throughout the whole game," Calipari said.

The Wildcats held a 49-36 overall rebounding advantage. They grabbed 22 of their 38 missed shots on the offensive end. Alex Poythress came off the bench to grab seven rebounds, five on the offensive end, and contributed six points to the win.

Auburn (11-11, 3-8 SEC) got 26-points from SEC scoring leader Chris Denson, but no one else reached double figures for the Tigers, who shot 33 percent from the floor. K.T. Harrell, who entered the game averaging 19.4 points, shot just 2-for-15 and finished with seven points.

Kentucky held a 28-22 lead at the half, but suffered through a stretch of more than 19 minutes spanning both halves in which it made only two shots from the floor. That helped Auburn grab a three-point lead with under 12 minutes to play, but the Wildcats responded with a 16-5 run of their own to regain control after a Calipari timeout that effectively ended the Tigers' momentum.

"Just energy," Johnson said of the Cats' winning surge. "We realized that this team was not just going to let us walk onto their court and beat 'em. We just turned up the energy, made some great plays that Coach Cal gave us to run, and just kind of grinded it out."

"I'm glad how we played down the stretch," Calipari said. "We played to win, but we gotta play better. We're not playing well right now.

"They had a will to win, which I liked, but, again, c'mon. It's time (to get better). It's time. Enough. I can't say it any more. I've said it a thousand ways. Why am I saying it publicly? I want them to read it."

Kentucky returns to action Saturday against No. 3 Florida, which remains undefeated in SEC play with a two-game lead on the Cats. UK plays host to the Gators at Rupp Arena for a 9 p.m. ET tip with ESPN's College GameDay show in Lexington for the rivalry game.

NOTES:

• Kentucky leads the all-time series against Auburn 89-17. The Tigers have only two wins (1990 and 2000) against the Wildcats since 1990.

• The Wildcats improved to 4-0 with the starting lineup of five freshmen featuring Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson.

• UK is 85-3 under John Calipari when holding the opponent to 63 or fewer points.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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