UK’s win over Auburn wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be



A 15-point road win sounds pretty comfortable, but UK’s victory over Auburn was instead ugly and uninspiring.

It didn’t need to be pretty or inspirational. In its second road game of the year, UK just needed a win.

UK got it.

A 23-6 run to end the game led UK (16-1, 2-0 SEC) to a 68-53 victory, and UK’s players did what they needed to down the stretch. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, known for his energy and tenacity, brought both on a chasedown block of a layup late in the game. Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, the team’s shooters, each hit a key 3-pointer as UK finally pulled away.

Would it have been more encouraging if UK handled Auburn from the outset? Yes, absolutely. In fact, the Cats should have. Auburn is not a good team. UK has the experience and the talent to (theoretically) take care of business on the road.

That’s not how things go, though, and that’s not how things went. And it’s not a bad sign. Games like this are the most valuable teaching tool in the climb toward March. If last season’s 2-6 record taught us anything, it’s to be patient with the results of early season road games (even if those results come against mediocre teams).

The inability to cruise to a win, however, was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. John Calipari had hammered home the difficulty of winning on the road in the SEC all week, pointing out last year’s 2-6 record in such games.

True to form, Auburn came out fired up. UK seemed unable to grasp that its opponent would bring extra energy.

“They wanted it worse than we did. They had a desire,” Calipari said after the game. “If we don’t play like a team on a mission, we’re going to lose games.”

The Cats were crushed on the boards, and its usually stingy defense allowed a pedestrian Auburn offense to look competent.

Deep in the second half against Auburn, with the score still tied and with UK unable to break open the game, Calipari’s face as he sat down in a timeout had a look of resigned acceptance. Struggling against Auburn was not how he wanted it to go. But maybe it was how the game had to go.

“We have to enjoy that this is how the games are going to be,” Calipari said.

That sentiment may not sound enticing for UK. Fighting to a win over Auburn isn’t the most encouraging result.

But it was still the result UK needed.