By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel
Tuesday night after UK’s close win over Tennessee, head coach John Calipari said he couldn’t envision his team ever leading a team by 20.
If that was a motivation technique, the Cats accepted the challenge, rolling past Auburn, 75-53, Saturday night.
Both teams began the game struggling mightily on offense. They combined to go 1-21 from behind the three-point line in the first half. Auburn’s 2-3 zone was giving the Cats trouble, and they were settling for a lot of outside jumpers. At one point, the Cats missed 10 shots in a row.
But, they recovered to make eight of their next 11 from the field and held a 30-25 lead at the break.
From there, the Cats continued their hot shooting. They shot 18-27 (67 percent) in the second half to incrementally swell the lead.
Auburn finished the game 0-15 from the three-point line. They shot just 34 percent from the field, some of which could be attributed to their struggles in the paint.
That paint was controlled, for 25 minutes that is, by freshman center Nerlens Noel.
With fellow frontcourt mate Willie Cauley-Stein back in Lexington getting treatment on his knee, Noel flirted with a triple-double, though he was held to limited minutes because of foul trouble. Noel finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. His 69 blocks are nine behind Anthony Davis’ pace last season through his first 17 games.
Another key to the Cats’ win was sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer. Coming off maybe his best game of the season, Wiltjer just about repeated it with a 17 point, four rebound, five assist game in Cauley-Stein’s absence.
Sophomore guard Ryan Harrow filled the stat line as well, particularly in the second half, finishing with 12 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
To put the win in perspective, UK only won two SEC games by more than 23 points last season – a 24-point win against LSU and a 34-pointer over South Carolina.
The Cats will have two days at home before flying back to the state of Alabama to play the Crimson Tide Tuesday night. The game will tip at 9 p.m. and be nationally televised on ESPN.