The last time Auburn faced off against defending champion Kentucky, the Tigers themselves admitted they were playing scared, in their own house.
Fear was no such factor in the rematch Saturday. But the Tigers’ aggression might have gone a tad over the top, victimizing their upset bid in host Kentucky’s 72-62 victory at Rupp Arena.
Auburn played the final 6 minutes, 47 seconds without any of its three bigs over 6-foot-6, trailing 63-48 at the time of 6-foot-10 center Rob Chubb’s fifth foul – joining 6-9 forward Jordon Granger and 7-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum in disqualification.
Fifty fouls were whistled during a chippy game, 29 on Auburn. While the Tigers were 11-of-17 from the line, Kentucky went 26-for-38 – including 17-for-24 in the second half.
With 1:12 remaining in the first half, Granger and Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin – both freshmen – were tangled while fighting for position on a free throw. When Goodwin’s arm crept up toward Granger’s neck, the Auburn rookie swung around and threw a punch, missing Goodwin’s back.
The two confronted, and had to be separated by the officials. After video review, Granger, who was making his second career start, was ejected with a flagrant-2 foul. If the SEC office deems the act as ‘fighting’, Granger will be suspended for Wednesday’s home game against Arkansas.
With the Tigers forced to play smallball – 6-foot-6 Allen Payne had to mind 6-10 Nerlens Noel and 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky went wild inside, making 56 percent of its 2-point attempts.
Auburn was pinpoint from deep, making 7 of 13 3-point tries led by senior Noel Johnson’s career-high-tying four three-pointers. Junior Chris Dension (Shaw) was 7-of-10 from the floor, leading the Tigers with 15 points.
Noel Johnson, Denson and freshman Shaq Johnson (10 points) led a bench renaissance, with 39 points provided by reserves. Senior guard Frankie Sullivan had just two of his eight points in the second half, not playing any of the final 10:19.
Kentucky had five players scoring in double figures, led by Kyle Wiltjer’s 14 points off the bench. Noel had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and Cauley-Stein produced 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting in 19 minutes.
The Wildcats (17-6, 8-2 SEC) stretched their winning streak to 15 over Auburn (9-14, 3-7), and 29 of the past 30 meetings have gone to Kentucky dating back 23 years.
A 75-53 Kentucky victory at Auburn Arena Jan. 19 was a low point during the Tigers’ six-game losing streak, which was snapped Wednesday with a home win over Alabama.
Auburn returns to action with a three-game homestand Wednesday, preparing to welcome Arkansas, No. 2 Florida and Texas A&M to the Plains.