By LARRY VAUGHT
There was no way for Kentucky coach John Calipari to sugar coat his team’s 77-71 overtime loss to Auburn Sunday that ended the Cats’ season one game short of the Final Four.
Kentucky beat Auburn twice during the season and had a 10-point lead in the first half before offensive inefficiency in the second half doomed the Cats along with missing eight of their last 13 foul shots and going 5-for-21 from 3-point range.
“They played aggressive. They played tough. They bumped and it was a grinding game,” Calipari said. “Two of their guys (Jared Harper and Bryce Brown) had 50 points.
“They deserved to win. We got outplayed, outcoached and still had a had a chance to win. It never entered my mind we weren’t going to win. Proud of these guys. Proud of my team. We didn’t play particularly well, but give them credit for making us play poorly.”
How poorly? Let me count the ways for you:
—Point guard Ashton Hagans had seven turnovers in 39 minutes. He finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting overall but was 1-for-4 from 3-point range and could never get the offense in sync. He did have five rebounds and three assists.
— Tyler Herro, the late star of Friday’s win over Houston, was 3-for-11 from the field (1-for-5 from 3), and had seven points, six assists and three rebounds. He was not anywhere close to the defensive stopper he had been.
— Keldon Johnson was 5-for-13 from the field but did get 14 points by getting to the foul line six times and also got 10 rebounds. However, he also got two key shots blocked late in the game.
— Immanuel Quickley was 1-for-6 from 3-point range and had only one assist in 19 minutes.
— Jemarl Baker played four minutes and gave up six points in two possessions.
— Kentucky out rebounded the smaller Tigers, who were in foul trouble with their bigs the whole game, only 41-36 and outscored them only 42-34 in the paint.
— Auburn got 14 points off 14 UK turnovers.
Think about this, too. The Tigers won despite making only SEVEN 3-pointers. Auburn had been demolishing teams with the 3 but was just 7-for-23. Overall, Auburn shot 40 percent — 26 of 65 — and won.
“Guys didn’t play well. Give Auburn credit for getting up in us and bumping, grinding and doing stuff to get guys off kilter,” Calipari said. “Got to have better perimeter play and we have all year. Give credit to Auburn. They made us play the way we did.”
Kentucky sophomore PJ Washington did play like a warrior in what was likely his final game at UK before he starts his NBA carer. He had 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting from the field and 6-for-10 at the foul line. He also had 13 rebounds, but even Washington had five turnovers.
Senior Reid Travis had nine points and six rebounds, but Auburn made it hard for UK to get the ball inside — especially when no one but Washington (2-for-4) — could score from outside. Travis got just five shots, and made four.
“Numbers say we should have won but a few too many turnovers at inopportune times and that changed the game,” Calipari said.
Later the coach added “I feel sick for the kids” because of the loss when UK’s defensive play was good enough to get a win.
“I mean, I wanted to see one more weekend, wanted Reid to be able to go back to Minnesota (for the Final Four in his hometown_, which he deserved for what he’s done for this program and us, but this is — when it’s one game, ‘Oh, you beat them twice. Once you beat them by 30.’ Doesn’t matter. One game. This was stuff that happens.”