Feb. 12, 2014
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn players tried. Oh, how they tried. But in the end, No. 13 Kentucky was too big, too strong and made plays when they mattered. The Wildcats escaped Auburn Arena on Wednesday night with a 64-56 victory.
For most of the night, the Tigers could hope. They even went on a 16-4 run to take a 38-35 lead with 11:28 left in the game. But the bigger and stronger visitors from Kentucky always had an answer. And it was usually on the inside.
Auburn's defense was stifling, holding the Wildcats to 31 percent shooting on 17-of-55. But the Wildcats snared 22 offensive rebounds, turning them into 21 points, and outrebounded the Tigers 49-36. Starting Auburn center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum did not score and got two rebounds before fouling out. Backup Matthew Atewe went hard to the glass and got 13 rebounds. He scored six points.
Auburn lost its second straight and fell to 11-11 overall and 3-8 in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky improved to 19-5 and 9-2.
Senior Chris Denson shouldered the load on offense for Auburn, going to the basket against the taller Wildcats for 26 points. But KT Harrell, the other half of Auburn's dynamic scoring duo, had a dreadful night. He was 2-of-15 from the field and scored seven points.
Still, the Tigers had their chances. Their defense made it hard on the Wildcats all night. But when the game was in the balance, the Wildcats got it done and beat Auburn for the 16th consecutive time and 30th time in the past 31 games.
"Our guys played hard. I'm proud of how our guys fought and how tough they were. At the end of the day, give Kentucky credit. They made winning plays when it mattered. We had a three-point lead, and from that point on they made more winning plays."
Denson was the only Tiger in double figures. Point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen had nine points.
`Very disappointed," Denson said. "This game was lost on rebounding. Too many offensive rebounds. We didn't make plays down the stretch. We were up by three and kind of got conservative trying to hold the lead.
"Like Coach said, we should have hit the gas pedal when we had that lead."
Harrell never got on target, going 0-for-7 from 3-point range and 2-for-8 inside the arc. Denson said Harrell's struggles did nothing to dampen his teammates' belief in him. But those struggles hurt.
"I have the ultimate trust for KT," Denson said. "We all do. But it's hard to beat a team with just one player in double figures."
Auburn's defense made it tough on Kentucky, but when Denson wasn't scoring, the Tigers had few answers when they had the ball. They hit 18-of-44 for 32.7 percent and just 2-of-16 from 3-point range.
Kentucky led 28-22 at halftime, quickly went up 31-22, fell back as Auburn made a 16-4 run and then took control down the stretch.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: Follow @PMarshOnAU