The Cats played their first game without senior Reid Travis on Saturday afternoon and absolutely dominated Auburn from start to finish in an 80-53 win.
Auburn is far from a scrub team, coming into Rupp with a top-15 offense and a top-30 defense they had all the tools to put up a fight. This game came with a lot of unpredictability, and it definitely didn’t go how most people had predicted. Let’s dive deeper and dissect Kentucky’s firm whoopin’ over Auburn.
Kentucky hasn’t been a great perimeter shooting team for the majority of the year. Coming into the game the Cats shot 35.4% from three on the season, which was outside the top-100 in the country. This percentage is also off of the 10th least three-point attempts in the country.
Despite this, Kentucky was shooting plenty and making them on Saturday. The Cats shot 11-24 from outside and were 9-17 at halftime. Kentucky gladly benefitted from the shooting of PJ Washington (5-8 3P) and Tyler Herro (3-6 3P), with PJ making three consecutive to start the game. For the second game in a row, Ashton Hagans even made two from outside (and a few more if his foot wasn’t on the line) and is beginning to make teams respect his outside shot.
When the Cats are shooting from outside as efficiently as they did on Saturday, they may be the hardest team in the country to beat because they do so many other things well.
EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards
With Reid Travis out, I fully anticipated for Kentucky to lose some grit, toughness, and productivity. While EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards can’t make up for Travis’ intangibles, they were able to make up for his production statistically.
Reid Travis season averages: 11.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 0.8 bpg
EJ/Nick vs. Auburn: 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks
If Montgomery and Richards are able to sustain this level of play throughout Reid’s absence, this will do nothing but increase their confidence and their level of play come March and next year if they decided to return.
Rebounding (Keldon Johnson)
It’s no secret that Kentucky is a very good rebounding team, a staple for most Calipari teams. Saturday was no different as the Cats outrebounded Auburn 43-24.
With Reid’s absence, the Cats knew they had to make up for his rebounding efforts and no one showed that more than Keldon Johnson, who finished the game with a game-high 17 boards and played I believe his best game of the season.
Calipari is expecting a much more consistent effort from Johnson on the boards with his performance today. During the postgame show, Cal said, “Keldon told on himself today. If he thinks he’s getting two rebounds next game, I’m going to be all over him. You’re able to get that many rebounds? He went after the ball. He was screaming going after balls too; grabbing them with two hands. Proud of him.”
Auburn’s 53 points, is the lowest scoring output for the Tigers since their exit to Clemson in the second round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. Kentucky’s defense, which is now 9th in the country in terms of efficiency, held Auburn to 32.8% FG and 29.6% 3P. The Cats also crashed the defensive glass hard, getting 35 defensive rebounds on 39 misses.
This team’s defense has improved each game since December, and if Kentucky is not making shots they will always have a chance with their stifling defense.
Cal Makes History
With the win, Calipari passed Joe B. Hall for the 2nd most wins in Kentucky basketball history in humbling fashion at 298. Swaggy Cal was in full effect as he joked that Coach Hall had asked him to vacate some of his wins to keep him at 3rd.
“Coach Hall just asked me to vacate any games that go by him. I said, they’ve already vacated some of my games, maybe they’ll just vacate some more and at the end of the day I’ll be one less than him.”
Calipari accepted the honor in humbling fashion, take a look at Coach Hall congratulating Cal and the accomplishment below
Cal now only trails the great Adolph Rupp, who won 876 games at Kentucky. It took Calipari 366 games to get to 298. Rupp accomplished the feat in 364 games and took Joe B. 397 games.
It was a great Caturday in Kentucky, as the Cats made another statement win over a quality opponent and showed just again just how dangerous this team can be. This team is now what we thought it could be in the summer and still with room to grow. I like my team!