By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl couldn’t stop saying good things about Kentucky today going into Saturday afternoon’s game on CBS-TV in Rupp Arena.
“Kentucky is the best defensive team in our league. The numbers are pretty astounding. They’re holding their opponents to 61 points per game over the last 13 games,” Pearl said.
“They’re one of the most physical teams in the country with the way they defend and the way that they rebound. Their rebound margin is fourth-best in the country at plus-9.2. We know there are times where rebounding has been an issue for us. It certainly was at LSU.
“They go to the foul line. They lead the SEC in makes with 18 per game and average over 24 attempts.”
Peal said it’s not “complicated” to know what Kentucky will do.
“It’s simple, but it’s solid. It’s very well thought out and it suits their personnel. They do a great job with their pin-down game and their post-up game. They’ve got six McDonald’s All-Americans and nine ESPN Top 100 recruits. They three guys that are scoring for them right now – PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro – those three guys are playing extremely productively,” the Auburn coach said.
“PJ Washington was a teammate of Horace Spencer’s back at Findlay (Prep), so I’ve seen him for a long, long time. He is absolutely a player of the year candidate nationally. He’s playing up to his capabilities. I’m very happy for him and I’m very proud of him. I’ve seen him develop and work, but this is how he’s supposed to play when he came to Kentucky. It’s a tremendous matchup between him and our 4-men, Danjel Purifoy and Chuma Okeke. He’s scoring inside and out now.”
But wait. Here comes the best about Washington.
“It’s interesting to say that right now we might be going up there playing against the best player in college basketball, potentially. I know Zion (Williamson), RJ Barrett – there are a lot of other guys that are terrific players, but if you look at Kentucky’s team, you look at their best player and you look at some of the numbers, he’s warranted of consideration,” Pearl said.
Guess what? He’s right.
But Pearl knows there is more to Kentucky.
“We’re going to have to be really good defensively. Ashton Hagans – a great point guard and defensive player of the year candidate – he’ll guard Jared Harper and I know he’s going to be excited about guarding a player like Jared, a guy that he grew up probably played against him a little bit in high school, but probably not much. We obviously recruited Ashton for years. He came to our camps. We have a great relationship with him and his family. He’s made a real difference in their basketball team,” Pearl said.
“They don’t have Reid Travis which could hurt their depth inside. Travis was playing well and was a big factor for them defensively and a really good screener. I believe Nick Richards was a McDonald’s All-American, so they’ll rotate somebody else in that position. Nick Richards is an elite rim protector.”
Richards will need to be with Reid Travis not playing due to a sprained knee suffered at Missouri
“Reid Travis is a great rebounder, defender, screener and physical presence. Richards will block more shots and protect the rim even better,” Pearl said. “It’s not like he’s not going up against one of the better centers in the league who comes off the bench for Kentucky. The issue would then be depth. Can we get it inside enough to maybe get them in some foul trouble inside? Because they don’t have an All-American coming off the bench.”