It was another big step forward for Coach John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday afternoon after blowing out the Auburn Tigers 86-54 at Rupp Arena.
The decisive win was No. 20 for a Kentucky team that’s now won four straight and moves to 20-9 and 11-5 in conference play. With the win, the ‘Cats also inched closer to earning a No. 3-seed third in the upcoming SEC Tournament behind Alabama (15-1) and Texas A&M (13-2). The Wildcats entered Saturday one game ahead of Tennessee and Auburn who were both 9-6, and Kentucky would win a tie-breaker against both.
If nothing else, Kentucky has all but locked up a top-four seed in the league tournament to get a double-bye.
Kentucky will now get set for Senior Night on Wednesday against Vanderbilt before closing out the regular season on the road against Arkansas.
On Saturday, Oscar Tshiebwe scored Kentucky’s first six points as the Wildcats led 10-9 early after a Cason Wallace 3-pointer, his first after going 0-for-16 the past three games.
Kentucky extended the lead to 24-18 with 6:59 left in the first half thanks to stellar shooting, going 10-of-15 from the floor, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc. A pair of Auburn free throws cut the lead to 35-29 before the Wildcats got back-to-back 3s from Jacob Toppin and Wallace to extend the lead to 35-29. Tshiebwe closed the half with two free throws as Kentucky took a 40-29 advantage into the locker room.
The Wildcats ran over the Tigers in the second half to improve to 14-3 at home this season and extended its dominance over the Tigers with a stunning 51-2 record against Auburn in games played in Lexington. The Tigers have now lost 20 straight games in Rupp Arena and haven’t won in this building since 1988.
Sahvir Wheeler (ankle) remained out and has no timetable for a return, while CJ Fredrick (rib) made his return and logged limited minutes.
Here are the four things you should know from another SEC win.
What more can you say about Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky’s leader in points, rebounds, and the reigning National Player of the Year? Against Auburn, the 6-foot-9 center had a cool double-double in the first half, going for 14 points and 10 rebounds, and had his fingerprints on the ball throughout the entire game. His breakaway dunk late in the game sent the Kentucky faithful into a frenzy with chants of “Go Big Blue!”
Entering the game, Tshiebwe ranked eighth all-time in program history with 844 total rebounds and eclipsed 1,000 career points in his UK career in the win at Florida, becoming the 61st player to achieve the feat. He finished the game with 22 points and 17 rebounds.
Led by Antonio Reeves, Kentucky caught fire against Auburn and knocked down shots at will from behind the arc. The Illinois State transfer hit five from deep and scored 21 points, including 18 in the second half. Wallace, Jacob Toppin, and Adou Thiero all hit shots beyond the arc and Kentucky, often criticized for its offensive woes, seemed to be clicking on all cylinders in a fun blowout win for the Cats.
Toppin finished with another double-double after getting 13 points and 12 rebounds to score in double-figures for the 12th straight game. Wallace finished with 19 points.
Fredrick, who returned from a rib injury, checked in at the 12:33 mark of the first half and did not attempt a shot. He looked healthy, running the floor and playing solid defense for a short stint in the opening half. While he may need more time to get in the flow of the offense and get caught up on some conditioning, the sharp-shooter is expected to play a key role in the Kentucky offense in the postseason.
Welcome back, CJ.
It’s officially time to flip the page to March and the Rupp Arena crowd on Saturday was raring to go, providing some of the loudest roars of the season. A corner 3-pointer by freshman Freshman Adou Thiero in the first half just about blew the lid off the place as Big Blue Nation loves the reserve guard for his fight and relentless effort.
With the Wildcats playing some of its basketball this season, Rupp Arena was lit against Auburn and got rowdy for everything from high-flying dunks to the dance team performance. It’s going to be a fun ride.