With 95 seconds left in the first half Saturday evening, what had been a close game to that point was still anybody’s contest. It didn’t take long for Kentucky to shut the door.
UK finished that first half with a flurry and carried it over from the halftime locker room, defeating Auburn 86-54 for its fourth straight victory over a quality opponent in the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky led Auburn 32-29 with less than two minutes left in the first half before running off eight straight points to take a double-digit lead into halftime. Auburn scored the first bucket of the second half, and then the Wildcats went on a 9-0 run to extend their lead to 18 points.
By the time Antonio Reeves hit back-to-back jumpers in transition — one a three, the other a long two — a short time later, Kentucky’s lead had ballooned to 58-37, a capacity crowd in Rupp Arena was roaring, and the Tigers’ day was effectively finished.
Reeves scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, providing the spark for UK’s utter domination out of halftime. Oscar Tshiebwe had a double-double by the end of the first half and finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Jacob Toppin also managed his second consecutive double-double and scored in double figures for the 12th straight game. He had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Cason Wallace tallied 19 points and nine assists.
Kentucky’s lead grew to as large as 40 points in the second half. This marked the Wildcats’ biggest margin of victory in the SEC this season, by far. Their previous best was a 16-point win at Vanderbilt last month. It was UK’s 20th consecutive victory over Auburn in Rupp Arena.
The Cats also welcomed back senior guard CJ Fredrick, who missed Kentucky’s previous four games with a rib injury. Fredrick did not take a shot in seven minutes on the court.
Auburn (19-10, 9-7 SEC) came into the day at No. 33 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, and only home games against teams in the top 30 count as Quad 1 matchups, so Saturday’s result won’t affect Kentucky’s record in that important grouping of games.
The Tigers could still climb into the top 30 retroactively, however, with games against Tennessee, Alabama and the league tournament still ahead. A good showing over the next two weeks could move Auburn into that top 30 and give the Wildcats another Quad 1 victory.
Kentucky was 1-7 in such games to start last week. The Cats are now 5-7 against Quad 1 competition, with victories over Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida in their previous three games, along with an earlier win over Texas A&M now counting as a Quad 1 due to the Aggies’ late-season surge.
UK (20-9, 11-5 SEC) entered the weekend in the 8 seed range for the NCAA Tournament, and Saturday’s victory almost certainly clinches a spot in the March Madness field.
The Cats still have their final home game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday and the regular-season finale at Arkansas next weekend, with the SEC Tournament after that.
Selection Sunday is two weeks away.
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