UK guards get outplayed in Elite 8 matchup

Freshman guard Ashton Hagans sits in the locker room after the game. University of Kentucky men’s basketball team lost to Auburn 77-71 in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 31, 2019, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Not only did the Auburn Tigers win the Midwest regional finals and advance to their first Final Four in program history, they also won the unofficial battle of the guards in Sunday’s Elite 8 matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats. 

After freshman guard Tyler Herro hit the game-changing shot at the end of UK’s matchup with Houston in the Sweet 16, it was a surprise to most to see him go 1-of-5 from the three and 3-of-11 from the field, good for seven points, along with two turnovers. Ashton Hagans, unlike Herro, reached double figures with 10 points, but had a rough seven turnovers. Freshman guard Immanuel Quickley came off the bench and hit a big three-pointer for the Cats, but ended up going 1-of-6 from the field and the three. On the other hand, Auburn starting guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combined for a whopping 50 points, scoring 26 and 24 respectively. No other Auburn player reached double figures. 

Despite Hagans being turnover prone throughout the game, UK head coach John Calipari wanted to keep him on the floor.    

“There are times you have to let guys play through stuff and you got to get them to change on run. Then they understand that the only thing they’re trying to conquer is themselves,” Calipari said. “If you don’t like how you’re playing, change. Immanuel couldn’t make a shot. So he wasn’t exactly playing confidently, either.”

“We put Jemarl (Baker) in. He got scored on a few times right there and fouled it. I felt comfortable with Ashton. I know he was turning it over and — but you know, Tyler — we just — guys didn’t play well,” Calipari said.

Things looked a lot different from when the two teams played each other in the regular season—UK beat them twice, the second time rather comfortably. Herro says the difference was Auburn’s shot-making, although Hagans says Auburn felt like the same team to him.

“Really they played the same as in every other game. Just making some big-time shots, we fouled them at the three-point line, they were getting to the lane,” Hagans said. “They came out fighting. We had some flaws on the defensive end, had some bad turnovers. Myself, I felt like I let my guys down. I had a lot of turnovers, can’t do too much now, just got to get back in the gym and work on my game.”

Coach Calipari mentioned that UK “got outplayed and outcoached,” and Quickley agrees. 

““They’re really talented, they were getting to the rim, shooting threes, they just outplayed us, really,” Quickley said. “In every facet of the game.”