It’s back to the drawing board for Kentucky as the Wildcats head to Auburn, Ala., for Saturday’s Southeastern Conference clash with the resurgent Tigers.
After winning their first three league outings, including a 76-58 thumping of Florida on the road, the Wildcats (4-7, 3-1 SEC) took a huge step back in falling to Alabama 85-65 at home Tuesday night. It was the Wildcats’ worst loss to the Crimson Tide ever in Rupp Arena and worst to the Tide in Lexington since 1974.
“Not one of our players played well. I obviously didn’t coach well,” coach John Calipari said. “But what I told them after is I’m going to find five guys that will fight and that’s who I’ll play. We got beat every which way but loose. We were late to everything.”
Auburn has become a different team since getting a favorable eligibility ruling on freshman Sharife Cooper. Though the Tigers (7-6, 1-4) lost 94-90 to Alabama in the talented point guard’s first outing last weekend, they cruised past Georgia 95-77 in Athens in their next outing.
Cooper has 54 points, 21 assists, nine rebounds and five steals in his first two collegiate games.
“He’s hard to guard and makes what we do harder to guard,” coach Bruce Pearl said.
Cooper had 28 points and 12 assists in the win over Georgia and scored or assisted on 20 of Auburn’s last 24 points.
“It’s more about the win,” he said. “Just getting on the right track. We’re trying to get this thing rolling.”
As was the case against Alabama, Kentucky’s defense figures to face a challenge from the perimeter. Auburn is second in the conference with 126 made 3-pointers this season, including six games with at least 10 triples.
The Crimson Tide made 14 of 30 treys against the Wildcats.
“Our game plan was we are not blocking the shot, but we’re going to contest,” Calipari said. “So, we get late, not late getting to them, but late jumping. We weren’t even near people.”
The Wildcats have dominated this series with 95 wins against only 21 losses and won 18 consecutive meetings from 2001 through 2015. But the two teams have split their last eight meetings and the Tigers have won three of the last four meetings at home.
–Field Level Media