5 keys to victory: Kentucky vs Auburn part II
Kentucky went to Auburn a little over a month ago and picked up a huge road win. The Cats got a big lead but the Tigers came roaring back and fell a bit short of the win. In that game Auburn was without their star big man Austin Wiley. He has returned to their lineup but has been playing limited minutes. It will be interesting to see if his role increases on Saturday. Kentucky will be without Reid Travis so that will make this game much tougher than it would have been. For the Cats to get the win these are their keys to victory.
- Nick and EJ have to step up- Reid Travis had 17 points and 7 rebounds in the Cats win at Auburn. Richards and Montgomery had only 1 point and 2 rebounds in that first game. Their playing time will be way up but it is up to them to bring their production up with their minutes. They do not have to dominate, they just have to defend and rebound the basketball. The bare minimum that the duo must produce is 10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Anything less than that and it will be very hard for the Cats to win the game.
- Keldon and Tyler need a repeat performance- They combined for 40 points against Auburn in the first meeting. The Tigers small guards had absolutely no answer for the size of Herro and Johnson. Both players need to be in attack mode once again. On top of that they both need to rebound the ball well to help make up for the absence of Reid Travis.
- Guard the 3-point line- Auburn made 13 3’s against Kentucky the first time they met and are coming off a 17 made 3’s game against Arkansas. They are going to shoot a bunch of shots from beyond the arc no matter what but the key is to make them take tough shots. The one positive with Nick and EJ on the floor more often tomorrow will be that the Cats can try to force Auburn off the 3-point line and towards their shot blockers. The player that Kentucky must focus on is Bryce Brown, who made 6 3’s against them the first time.
- PJ Washington has to carry the scoring load inside- PJ has been the Cats biggest scoring threat for quite a while but now he has lost his wing man in the paint. The Tigers will do everything they can to keep the ball out of PJ’s hands and when he gets it they will double-team him. When the double comes he has to make smart decisions and find the open man. The good thing about PJ is his ability to score from the perimeter and to take the ball off the dribble. He does not have to rely on having the ball thrown to him in the post which makes it more difficult to double-team him every time he gets the ball. The loss of Travis just means that PJ needs to be locked in for the entire game.
- Don’t turn the ball over- Auburn thrives off of creating turnovers and the Cats had 13 against them the first time. Kentucky turned the ball over too often in their last game against Missouri so it should be something they are focused on. If the Cats can protect the ball and turn it over 12 times or less it will be a big step towards a win. Obviously the key player in protecting the ball is Ashton Hagans who had 4 turnovers and just 2 assists against Missouri.
It should be an uptempo game tomorrow and I expect it to be a very good crowd. It will be very interesting to see how the Cats respond to the absence of Reid, especially at the start of the game. Auburn has been disappointing over the past month but they are a very talented team that I expect to play well tomorrow. It will be a very close game from start to finish but I think the home crowd will help push the Cats to a 79-76 win. For Kentucky to keep the possibility of a 1 seed alive the key is to win by any margin.