Auburn was in a hole before its opening tipoff against UK

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl calls out plays toward his team during the first half of the UK men’s basketball game against Auburn in Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, February 21, 2015. UK leads 52 to 26 at halftime. Photo by Marcus Dorsey

By Kyle Arensdorf

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In a press conference earlier this month, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said his team didn’t have a shot at beating UK.

His team made him look like a very smart man on Saturday.

It took Auburn more than 11 minutes to put the ball through the hoop in Rupp Arena. At the nine-minute mark, the Tigers had four points, and those four points came in the form of two free throws and a goaltend.

But Pearl’s team shouldn’t get all of the blame. After all, when your coach tells the media you can compete against any team in the SEC “with the exception of Kentucky,” how are you supposed to play?

They could have taken it as a challenge and gone right at the Cats as a point of pride to prove their coach wrong.

But they didn’t, and instead fell behind UK 23-4 in two blinks of an eye.

Whether or not Pearl should have said what he said, he wasn’t wrong by any means. Auburn didn’t have a chance.

The Tigers don’t start anyone taller than 6-foot-8, and three of their starters are shorter than 6-foot-5.

But if a shorter team has any hopes of overcoming the odds against a taller team, especially one as tall as UK, two things need to happen: The shorter team has to shoot at a very high percentage and has to win the rebounding battle – or at least keep the discrepancy within a few boards.

Auburn wan’t able to do either.

As a result, it wasn’t a fair fight for UK, which makes it difficult to note positives and negatives.

The Cats did improve in areas that have been cruces for them in previous games, however, like points in the paint. UK outscored Auburn 62-24 in the paint on Saturday.

That shouldn’t be that big of a deal for a team that plays six guys taller than 6-foot-9 to Auburn’s one. But on Tuesday, Tennessee became the fifth SEC team to outscore UK in the paint (the third in the Cats’ last six games).

UK also had arguably the best offensive showing they’ve had all season, shooting a season-high 64.7 percent – 18 percentage points better than their season-average.

So while Auburn might not have been the best barometer against which a 27-0 basketball team should judge themselves, the Cats’ performance bodes well in a time when teams need to start firing on all cylinders.