At the buzzer: Kentucky mens basketball defeats Auburn 86-54


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats guard Cason Wallace (22) holds the ball during the Kentucky vs. Auburn mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens basketball defeated Auburn 86-54 to increase its SEC winning streak to four games heading into the home stretch of the season.

The Wildcats entered the matchup on the back of a three-game winning streak, most recently defeating Florida 82-74 in Gainesville on Wednesday. The stretch, plus Texas A&M’s rise, saw Kentucky go from having just one quadrant-1 win to five in the span of 10 days.

Kicking things off with a starting lineup of Antonio Reeves, Cason Wallace, Jacob Toppin, Chris Livingston and Oscar Tshiebwe, the Wildcats prepared to face off against Auburn’s starting five of Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper, Allen Flanigan, Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Cason Wallace (22) dribbles the ball up the court during the Kentucky vs. Auburn mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

The Tigers won the opening tip off, to the dismay of the nearly full Rupp Arena crowd, with Broome nailing a 3-pointer for the first bucket of the game. Tshiebwe would respond on the other end with a two-pointer on the very next possession, ensuring both teams found points on their first possessions.

Both teams would trade blows until Wallace sent the home fans into a frenzy with a 3-pointer, Kentucky’s first of the day, to give his team a 10-9 lead that it would take into the first timeout with just over five minutes played.

The home fans would be given another reason to cheer with just under 13 minutes left in the half as CJ Fredrick, who had missed Kentucky’s last four games due to a rib injury, checked into the game for the Cats.

The Wildcats would get hot with under 10 minutes left in the half, going 5-7 in recent attempts with just under seven minutes left to play for a 24-18 lead. In that stretch freshman Adou Thiero connected with a ball from beyond the arc, tying his season-high for 3-pointers in a game.

While many players stepped up, it was once again Tshiebwe who would be the first to reach double figures, securing 10 points before any other athlete in the contest.

While Kentucky would enjoy a long lead, the Tigers would pull ahead once again with just over five minutes to play in the half with a put-back dunk by Williams. Unwilling to roll over, Toppin connected on the other end to give the Cats the lead back.

Kentucky would go on to find its lucky number, taking a 10-point lead off a free-throw from Tshiebwe before “Big O” also hit the second one, giving Kentucky a 40-29 lead that it ultimately took into halftime.

Tshiebwe’s two points to finish the half capped off an 8-0 run by the Cats to finish the half, with the team shooting a combined 56% from the field and 83% (5-6) from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes. The free points by the reigning consensus National Player of the Year also brought Kentucky’s free-throw shooting percentage to 83% in the half.

Tshiebwe led all scorers in the half with 14 points, though Wallace (11) and Auburn’s Williams (11) joined him with double-digit point totals.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Chris Livingston (24) drives the ball during the Kentucky vs. Auburn mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Kentucky returned from the break and quickly returned to form, jumping ahead to an 18-point lead after five minutes of play.

The Wildcats would continue to keep the lead steady, carrying a 16-point lead with just under 12 minutes left to play with the score at 53-37.

Kentucky would extend its lead further with back-to-back 3-pointers from Reeves, with the scoreboard showing a 22-point tilt towards the Cats with the score at 59-37.

A steal by Tshiebwe with just over seven minutes left to play followed by an Auburn foul led to a timeout by Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl, who hoped to stop Kentucky’s 7-0 scoring run that saw it extend its lead to 25 points.

Toppin would even further extend the lead with just over five minutes left to play, and a fast-break dunk by Tshiebwe would see the Cats take a 33-point lead on a 17-2 scoring run.

Kentucky would take a hit in with just over four minutes to play as Toppin fouled out of the game, but not before recording a 13-point-12-rebound double-double for the Cats.

The lead would become even larger with just over two minutes to play with Wallace making a basket that gave the Cats a 40-point lead with the score at 86-46.

With the final buzzer granting Kentucky a 32-point victory, the Cats were led by Tshiebwe, who scored 22 points, followed by Reeves (21), Wallace (19) and Toppin (13).

The second half of play saw the Wildcats outscore the Tigers 46-25.

Looking to complete one final week of the regular season, the Cats will first remain home for a rematch against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Wednesday, March 1. Tip off against Vandy is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST and will air live on the SEC Network.