No. 4 Cats Tame Tigers, 80-53
LEXINGTON, Ky. – John Calipari was satisfied being in third place as Kentucky’s all-time winningest coach.
“No one should go by [Joe B Hall], so coach Hall just asked me to vacate any games that go by him,” Calipari said. “I said they have already vacated some of my games. Maybe we’ll just vacate some more and at the end of the day I’ll be one less than him.”
Calipari surpassed Hall on the school’s career wins list and is second behind Adolph Rupp after an 80-53 victory over Auburn on Saturday.
Calipari is 298-68 in 10 seasons with the Wildcats. Hall compiled a 297-100 record in 13 seasons and led the Wildcats to a national championship in 1978.
PJ Washington scored 24 points to lead No. 4 Kentucky. Washington led three players in double figures and helped lead the Wildcats to a regular-season sweep of the Tigers. The Wildcats (23-4, 12-2 Southeastern Conference) defeated Auburn 82-80 last month and made things easier the second time around. Tyler Herro followed Washington with 17 points and Ashton Hagans added 14.
Kentucky played without senior forward Reid Travis, who sprained his right ankle in a 66-58 win at Missouri last Tuesday. Travis is expected to miss the next two weeks. Freshman EJ Montgomery started in Travis’ absence and scored six points. Nick Richards split time with Montgomery in the post and added four points. Keldon Johnson snagged 17 rebounds and just missed a double-double with eight points.
“Keldon told on himself today,” Calipari said. “If he thinks he’s getting two rebounds next game, I’m going to be all over him. He told on himself. You’re able to get that many rebounds? You’re able to go above the rim against a team like that, that rebounds like crazy, offensively?”
Washington scored 11 of Kentucky’s first 16 points and set the tone for the victory. Four of Kentucky’s first seven field goals were 3-pointers, including three by Washington. Washington and Herro combined for 27 points in the first half. Washington and Herro combined for eight of Kentucky’s 11 3-pointers in the contest.
“He’s not the same player, and the biggest thing is, he got in great condition,” Calipari said of Washington. “Now he can play basketball and, are you ready for this, you can think. If you’re not in shape, your whole thought is about I’m dying out here. You’re not thinking ahead. You’re not anticipating. He’s in great, great condition. And he’s playing like the best player in the country right now. He really is.”
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl agreed.
“He had that ability a year ago,” he said. “I’ve seen it but now it’s being brought out. . He’s playing with great confidence and playing a great role doing the things he’s doing. He’s a national player of the year candidate without question.”
SEC win No. 1?2? in the ?? pic.twitter.com/ZR66tj1beU
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 23, 2019
The Wildcats built a 19-point lead on a 3-pointer by Herro before Auburn used a 14-2 run and closed to 38-31. Kentucky responded by scoring the final seven points of the half. Herro splashed a 3-pointer at the end of the half.
Kentucky put the game away by scoring 11 straight points to open the second half and led by as many as 33.
Chuma Okeke led Auburn (18-9, 7-7) with 14 points, followed by Jared Harper with 12 and Anfernee McLemore with 10.
“These guys are winners,” Pearl said of the Wildcats. “I’m not surprised (how much better they have gotten), but I am surprised that we were not competitive today. I thought we legitimately had a chance to come in here and play with them. We were physically overwhelmed.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats moved into a tie with Tennessee and LSU atop the conference standings. The Tigers defeated the fifth-ranked Volunteers 82-80 Saturday in Baton Rouge. There are two weeks remaining in the regular season. Kentucky plays at Tennessee next Saturday.
Auburn: The Tigers are in the middle of the conference standings and will play Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and Tennessee during the final two weeks of the regular season. Auburn has a chance to finish as high as fourth depending on the team’s success down the stretch. The Tigers fell to 2-49 against Kentucky in games played in Lexington.
Kentucky figures to remain in its current spot in the Top 25 after winning a pair of games this week. The Wildcats responded to a 74-71 loss to LSU on Feb. 12 with three consecutive victories.
Members of Kentucky’s 1958 NCAA national championship team, known as the “Fiddlin Five,” were honored prior to tipoff. The squad was the last of four national title teams Rupp coached during his 41-year tenure. The Wildcats defeated Seattle 84-72 to win the crown in Louisville that season.
Kentucky: hosts Arkansas on Tuesday.
Auburn: at Georgia on Wednesday.