Kentucky Looks to Clinch SEC Title Against Auburn
The stakes for this weekends game between Kentucky and Auburn couldn’t be much higher. The Cats hold a two game lead over the Tigers in the conference standings. An Auburn win would draw them within one game. Kentucky still has to play at Florida which could be a loss for the Cats. If Auburn won their final two games, the teams would end in a tie with the tiebreaker going to Auburn because of head to head wins. Even more important than the SEC title, the NCAA tournament seeding implications for this game are huge. Joe Lunardi currently has Kentucky projected to be the last 3 seed. A win over a top 15 team would be a nice boost to the Cats tournament resume. Auburn is projected as a 4 seed and could certainly move up with a win over Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
The Tigers have won two straight games over Kentucky and that has to be something that bothers Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. It will no doubt give Kentucky a little added energy going into this game. On top of that, this will likely be the best crowd environment of the season in Rupp. Fans are aware of how important this game is for Kentucky and they want to beat Auburn badly. That should be a big factor from start to finish in this game.
Auburn is not the same three point bombing team that they were last year, but they still shoot quite a few. The biggest difference is they have made just 30.1% of them this season. Compare that to Kentucky who has made 33.7% of their 3’s on the season and it shows how poorly Auburn has shot. With that said, they are still a dangerous shooting team that is capable of getting hot. They are most effective on offense when they are driving the ball at the rim. Kentucky struggled to guard them without fouling earlier this season. The Tigers also have a strong presence inside the paint with Austin Wiley. He gave Nick Richards a lot of trouble in the first meeting, and you can be sure he will try to push Nick around again. Auburn plays a very physical style of defense and how the game is called often dictates the success of it. If the refs call a tight game, it will probably be bad for Auburn. On the flip side, if they let them play physical it will work in the Tigers favor.
In the last two meetings with Auburn, Ashton Hagans has really struggled. The Cats desperately need him to play better if they hope to come out on the winning side. EJ Montgomery was also a non-factor in the last meeting and that needs to change. Quickley and Tyrese Maxey were really the only players that played well at Auburn this season. The hope would be that they can play well again and add in some better play from Hagans, Montgomery and Richards. Auburn dominated the Cats on the glass in the first meeting and that will be a point of emphasis going into this game. If the Cats can win the rebounding battle, play with high energy from start to finish, and Hagans can limit his turnovers it will probably lead to a Wildcat win.
With tournament play closing in this game should be a great preview of what is coming. The Cats should be fired up, Auburn will be energized and the crowd will be crazy. It should be a very good game from start to finish. I expect Kentucky to pull away in the closing minutes with a 80-76 win. Survive and advance is all that matters.