(2017-18 RECORD: 22-3, 10-2 SEC) vs. (2017-18 RECORD: 17-8, 6-6 SEC)
|Wed, Feb 14||8 p.m.|
By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – Horace Spencer still remembers the final seconds ticking down in Auburn’s win over Kentucky two years ago. He remembers seeing the Kentucky players walk off the court. He remembers the Auburn fans storming the court. And he remembers how hot it was on the court at Auburn Arena that day.
“It was a great feeling,” Spencer said. “It’s hard to explain.”
The win snapped an 18-game losing streak against Kentucky, and it was only the second time Auburn had defeated the Wildcats on the hardwood since 1990.
At the time, it was a monumental upset. The Tigers were 7-8 going into the game. They were a 12-point underdog against a Kentucky team that was ranked No. 14 and featured future NBA players like Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, Skal Labissiere and Alex Poythress.
Two years later, the tables have turned. No. 10 Auburn is the team that’s ranked. They’re the ones that are 22-3 and leading the SEC by two games with less than a month remaining. They’re also the ones who will be favored heading into Wednesday’s matchup against a Kentucky team that is in the midst of a three-game skid – the first ever under John Calipari.
When the NCAA selection committee revealed its top 16 teams Sunday and where they would be seeded if the tournament were to begin this week, Auburn was the top two seed and ranked fifth overall. Kentucky was nowhere to be found.
“I feel like it shows how much hard work we’ve put in,” Spencer said.
However, don’t expect the Tigers to take Wednesday’s opponent lightly. Head coach Bruce Pearl was quick to point out that Kentucky still has six McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster when he spoke to the media Monday, and regardless of record or where the Wildcats are ranked, the Auburn players always get a little extra amped for this game.
“Kentucky is Kentucky,” Spencer said. “That name itself gives me chills just trying to play against the best. They were the best in the SEC at one point in time. At one point in time, they didn’t lose a game all season. So I feel like that persona still stands over them.”
Wednesday’s game is scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m. CT from Auburn Arena.
Rod Bramblett and Sonny Smith will have the radio call on 93.9 Tiger FM, online at AuburnTigers.com and on the TuneIn app. The game will also be televised on ESPN2 as a part of the network’s “Crossover” event which features a mix of NBA and college basketball commentators on the call for each game. The team of Adam Amin, P.J. Carlesimo, Dan Dakich and Laura Rutledge will do the Auburn-Kentucky game.
Player to watch: Desean Murray
Junior Desean Murray has been crucial to Auburn’s success thus far into the season. The Stanley, N.C., native is averaging 11 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Where Murray has shown the most improvement is at the free throw line. After shooting 59 and 77 percent from the charity stripe in his final two seasons at Presbyterian, Murray has made 86 percent of his free throws this season, including 89 percent in SEC play.
Inside the series: Kentucky
Kentucky holds a 92-18 advantage in the all-time series. Auburn won the last meeting between the two programs at Auburn Arena in 2016. In that game, a 76-71 victory, Kareem Canty and Tyler Harris erupted for a combined 47 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to pace the Tigers.
Auburn is looking to win consecutive home games against Kentucky for the first time since defeating the Wildcats in 1989 and 1990 in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
Auburn shot 29-of-57 (50.9 percent) from the field at Georgia, the third straight game and fourth time in five games the Tigers have shot at least 50 percent. It is the first time the Tigers have shot 50-plus percent in three straight SEC games since 1999 (Ole Miss, Alabama, Vanderbilt).
Sophomore Jared Harper leads the SEC with 149 assists in 25 games, and he’s produced 13 games of at least seven assists this season, which is also tops in the conference.
Of the players nationally who have over 100 assists, Harper is No. 6 in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.17). He has 77 assists to just 21 turnovers in SEC play this season, and he’s also scored in double figures in 17 straight games – the longest active streak on the team.
Harper’s 149 assists on the season are the most by an Auburn player since Quantez Robertson had 163 in 2006-07. The school record is 221 set by Gerald White in the 1985-86 season.
Take a timeout
Click here to vote for Bruce Pearl and Children’s Harbor in the Coaches Charity Challenge. The coach with the most votes after four rounds wins $100,000 for their charity. Each charity will receive money for every round their representative coach is voted through.
Note: Pearl advanced to Round 3 on Tuesday. He’s one of 16 finalists.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @greg_ostendorf