Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Auburn

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Auburn

by Tim Letcher

As No. 22 Kentucky prepares to visit 13th-ranked Auburn on Saturday, the Cats are preparing for what’s sure to be a hostile environment. It won’t be the first time this season that UK has faced such a situation, something that should help the Cats on Saturday. But according to freshman D.J. Wagner, there’s something more that the Cats can do to handle the situation.

“We’ve got to prepare as much as possible,” Wagner said. “That’s something coach always says, as long as you’re prepared, you shouldn’t have any type of nerves or anything like that. Preparing for the atmosphere and how intense the game is going to be.”

Being prepared will hopefully also allow the Cats to play loose in what’s sure to be a loud, excited Neville Arena.

“If we prepare as much as we can, we’ve got nothing to lose,” Wagner said. “That’s something coach always tells us, we’ve got nothing to lose, just play with an open mind.”

Stopping Auburn will be a tough task for the Cats. The Tigers are 13-0 at home this season, including a 101-61 win over No. 11 South Carolina earlier this week. Auburn scores 86.8 points per game at home while giving up just 64.7. Auburn’s closest home game this season is an 11-point win over Texas A&M in January. Wagner knows how good the Tigers are.

“They’re a great team, well-coached,” Wagner said. “They play very intense. They’re a competitive team. I feel like it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be a good game.”

Kentucky’s defense showed improvement in Tuesday’s win over Ole Miss. A great deal of the credit for that went to Ugonna Onyenso, who tied a Rupp Arena record with 10 blocked shots. Having a rim protector behind them allows the Cats to pressure the ball more out on the floor, according to Wagner.

“It makes a huge impact, just knowing that we’ve got a great shot blocker back there, it gives us the confidence to push up on them even more,” Wagner said. “Try to defend the ball even more because we know if they get by us, Ugo will be back there to block it.”

The Cats have set a goal to get 10 percent better on defense every day. How can they go about accomplishing that?

“It’s all about staying in the gym and staying locked in,” Wagner said. “In practice, see how we can get better, day by day. Just keep building and building.”

The Cats hope to be locked in on Saturday night against a talented Auburn team, in their home arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on ESPN.

Last Time Out: Ole Miss Recap

Defense has been the topic of conversation around the Kentucky basketball team in recent weeks. On Tuesday night against Ole Miss, UK got a historic individual defensive performance from Ugonna Onyenso on its way to a much-needed Southeastern Conference victory.

Onyenso, the sophomore big man from Nigeria, blocked 10 shots, tying the previous Rupp Arena record of 10 held by Hall of Famer David Robinson (Navy, 1987), as the Cats topped the Rebels 75-63. Onyenso added eight points and three rebounds in the contest.

Kentucky (17-7, 7-4 SEC) got 15 points from Antonio Reeves and 13 points, five assists, five steals and four rebounds from Reed Sheppard. Justin Edwards added 12 points and Rob Dillingham had 10.

Ole Miss (18-6, 5-6) scored the first five points of the game before UK got an Edwards basket to make it 5-2. Another Edwards basket got the Cats within one, then a driving, twisting Edwards layup, and subsequent free throw, gave UK a 7-5 advantage. A Dillingham basket made it 9-5, completing a 9-0 run for the Cats.

The Rebels would respond with a run of their own. Ole Miss scored 10 straight to turn four-point deficit into a 15-9 lead. UK would get within one, 15-14, before the Rebels scored five more in a row to lead 19-14 with 10:32 left in the half.

A Sheppard three brought the Cats within one, 19-18. After Ole Miss scored the next four, Sheppard hit a deep three to make it 23-21 with 6:33 to play in the half. And when Reeves hit a three from the left corner on the next possession, Kentucky grabbed a 24-23 lead.

The UK run would continue with a pair of free throws from both Reeves and Edwards, making it 28-23 Cats with 4:50 to play in the half. Those free throws completed a 10-0 UK run.

After Ole Miss got a pair of free throws from Jamarion Sharp, Kentucky went on a 10-2 run to lead 38-27 with 1:32 left in the half. The Cats would lead 43-29 at the break.

Ole Miss opened the second half with an 8-2 run to get within 45-37. The Rebels would eventually get within six, 47-41, before Dillingham drilled a three to give UK a 50-41 advantage. That was the start of a 10-2 run that built the UK lead to 57-43 with 11:56 to play.

Kentucky would hold a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game on its way to the victory.

Running, Gunning and Sharing … Oh, My!

To say that Kentucky is clicking offensively would be an understatement.

• UK has scored at least 81 points in all but four games this season.
• This is the first UK team to score at least 81 points in 16 of its first 17 games of a season in program history.
• UK is averaging 88.9 points per game for the season. That ranks third in the country.
• Kentucky scored a Calipari-era record 118 points against Marshall.
• The Wildcats also put up a Rupp Arena-record 69 points in the opening half against the Thundering Herd.
• Kentucky’s 95 points at Louisville are the most the Cardinals have ever surrendered at home at the KFC Yum! Center.
• The Wildcats’ 90 points against Missouri were the most in an SEC game since scoring 90 in a 90-81 win over Alabama on Feb. 19, 2022.
• Kentucky scored 90 or more in four straight SEC games (Missouri, at Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Georgia) for the first time since scoring 107 at Vanderbilt (Jan. 4, 1994), 90 at Georgia (Jan. 8, 1994), 96 vs. Ole Miss (Jan. 12, 1994) and 93 vs. Tennessee (Jan. 15, 1994).
• The Wildcats scored 90 points against Mississippi State at home. It was the most the Bulldogs (a top-10 KenPom defense) has surrendered to date this season.
• Kentucky scored 109 points at Vanderbilt. It was the most points UK has scored against an SEC foe on the road since scoring 120 at Vanderbilt on Feb. 7, 1996.
• UK was 12 for 12 at the free-throw line at Vanderbilt. It was the most makes without a miss in a true road game since Jan. 28, 1989 at Ole Miss (13).
• They’re playing at a fast pace, averaging just 15.5 seconds per possession which ranks 19th in the country.
• UK is logging 16.17 fast-break points per game. That mark is the eighth best in the nation.
• Kentucky made at least 12 3-pointers in four straight games (Kansas, Stonehill, Saint Joseph’s, Marshall) for the first time since December of 1989. UK has made at least eight in all but seven games this season.
• The Wildcats are averaging 9.9 made 3s per game. That is the 18th-best nationally.
• It’s 3-point percentage (.407) is second in the country.
• UK has five players averaging double-figure points.
• Five Wildcats have multiple 20-point scoring efforts.
• The Wildcats rank fifth in the country with a 1.76 assist-to turnover ratio.
• Kentucky is dishing out 17.7 assists per game, ranking 13th in the country in that category. Four players have 68 or more assists (3.1 per game) thus far.
• Per KenPom, UK’s offensive efficiency ranks seventh.
• Per KenPom, UK’s effective field-goal percentage ranks eighth and its turnover percentage is fifth in the nation.
• Per KenPom, Reed Sheppard’s true shooting-percentage is sixth in the nation, his effective field-goal percentage is ninth, while his 3-point percentage is third. His offensive rating is 64th, Antonio Reeves is 120th and Tre Mitchell is 145th.

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