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Stars aligned to create chaos in Kentucky’s loss to Auburn

Kentucky just couldn’t find a way to stop Auburn Sunday. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

When the final horn sounded and the scoreboard read 77-71 in Auburn’s favor it was apparent that it just wasn’t meant to be. Like when all the stars align to create disorder in the universe the fundamental elements of college basketball lined up to help Auburn create disorder in the Midwest Regional Final game that the Kentucky Wildcats had in hand with 3:14 to go in the first half. 

Kentucky had created a 30-20 lead through some strong inside play including putting the three Auburn forwards — Wiley, Spencer and Dunbar — in a precarious situation with foul trouble. Each player spent multiple minutes on the bench in the first half trying to avoid getting their third fouls. 

But even at the three minute mark in the first half you could see the cracks beginning to form in the UK armor. Auburn’s coach, Bruce Pearl realized he had a mismatch with 5’11” Jared Harper and just about anybody UK put on him. With Tyler Herro, UK’s best perimeter defender, hounding Bryce Brown while nursing foul trouble of his own, UK coach John Calipari made no adjustments to the defense that proved effective. Time and time again Harper drove past a rotation of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker to either lay the ball in the basket or dump it off to an Auburn inside player for the easy layup. 

Not only could UK not get their normal defensive effort going but they also could not score consistently on offense. On this day the Wildcats shot poorly from the 3-point line by hitting an abysmal 23 percent and only 44 percent overall. It also didn’t help that UK went 12-for-21 from the free throw line for a very poor 57 percent, tied for the lowest percentage of the season. 

Another element that lined up to hamper the Cats was inconsistent officiating. In the first half Auburn piled up a whopping 10 fouls to only have one foul called on the Tigers in the the second half’s last 12 minutes of regulation. To say the referees swallowed their whistle for the final 12 minutes would be an understatement. The inside game UK usually relies on couldn’t happen in the second half because of the constant shoves and banging down low by the Auburn  defenders. 

The last element that plagued the Wildcats today against Auburn was the same thing that has hurt this UK team all season. Lack of an accomplished point guard. Ashton Hagans had three assists and seven turnovers to go along with his 10 points. Hagans, with the exception of Ryan Harrow during the NIT season, has proven to be the worst match so far for the point guard position during the Calipari era.

He is slightly smaller at 6-3 than John Calipari prefers and has very little feel for the game at point guard. He is an inconsistent shooter at best, cannot beat his man off the dribble and doesn’t have a good enough basketball IQ to run the team in a half court set. His defense was repeatedly exposed in the game by Auburn’s guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. 

But with all that being said it took a tremendous effort by Auburn, a poor shooting day by Kentucky and inconsistent officiating between the two halves to create the upset that denied the Cats an opportunity to play for title number nine in Minneapolis. 

The unfortunate part of the whole scenario is how similar in feel this loss is to the last tournament loss that really hurt under Calipari, the 38-1 team that lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four in 2015. In that game the same elements seem to line up — poor shooting and inconsistent officiating – and John Calipari had no coaching answers that day either. 

It’s a shame to see senior Reid Travis and sophomore PJ Washington not get an opportunity to make it to the Final Four after all they have sacrificed for the team but in the end when the basketball stars align it just seems like basketball disorder follows. Unfortunately on this Sunday the UK players and coaches seemed to have no answer for how to overcome the elements. 

18 comments

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  1. Good analysis KP. A little hard on Hagans IMO, but the truth sometimes is hard to take. Hagan’s just needs more experience. I agree on your officiating point too.

  2. Auburn wanted that win so much more than we did. Cal never came up with an offense that would key on more than one player. Over 80% of his plays call for PJ or Tyler to shoot. Reid is an afterthought and that is such a waste. Keldon gets the bulk of what’s left, but it doesn’t come with any flow, he basically has to take his man one on one. Ashton is just not an SEC caliber starting guard as will be evidenced next year. Auburn realized that tight cover on Tyler would pretty much shut him down. They knew they didn’t have to guard Ashton. They also knew that bulk of Reids offense would be limited to put backs. PJ never did show the ability to pass out of double teams consistently. Pearl put that all together in a plan that never should have worked, but it did. I don’t see Cal changing his offense. That’s why I don’t see us winning a national title again until he is gone.

    1. Your full of it Catmandoo. UK had three in double figures on a bad shooting day. Auburn had two. Herro, Johnson, and Quickley got plenty of chances to score, they just couldn’t hit. How do you keep the ball out of Washington’s hands genius? The problem with UK mostly was at the free throw line. That cost them the game. Also, they couldn’t stop Harper or Brown at the rim. Do you ever look at the stats?

      1. Rah Rah Rah Pup!

      2. Mike and Catmandoo your wish has gone down to toilet. Cal has just sign life time contract to stay as UK coach. Great news

        1. Cats79….Be careful for what you wish for. This may not be totally true, it may also not be good news to a lot of folks. My guess is that Cal would have some escape mechanisms in place that may not be available to the public. I can be easily persuaded and would be willing to drink a little kool aid if Cal can reign in a quality big this recruiting cycle. It might be difficult for me to totally buy-in though because of my view that there are a few other coaches out there that are doing better with lesser talent, especially the last couple of years. Really, I love my team but they are still very young.

  3. Certainly not pushing for Cal to be fired but do feel he is overrated as a good x and 0 coach. It is apparent that Pearl’s adjustments worked and not sure what adjustments Cal actually made. Some say we had a great year but IMO that would be Final 4 or beyond. We had a very good year but the OND continues to exasperate many in the BBN. PJ is the only one really prepared to advance, and I would love to have Herro return but realize that probably won’t happen. Cal seems to be increasingly missing on true 5* talent evaluations. There are other coaches out there that could have probably advanced further with same amount of 5* talent. Our defense covered a lot of flaws, and Cal does need to be commended for that but our lack of offensive productivity and continuity did not improve at all during the year.

  4. I don’t care what people says about Cal, Get use to it people he’s here in for the long haul and wouldn’t want to trade him for anybody else. His track record is good as any coach in the country. Larry Vaught provided his stats and no other coaches can match that in the ten years he’s been here. Next thing you know Mike and catmandoo want the baseball, softball, archery, and track coaches to be fired also.

    1. Next up will be some FB coaches. How could you forget them?..LOL

  5. Let’s see. North Carolina, Duke, and Villanova have all won 2 national titles in the past 10 years. I would say that trumps Cal’s one win. Obviously, you don’t know what you are talking about. You must be Pup’s brother.

    1. Spoken like a true Tarheel, and Blue Devil, wow! Go root for them then.

  6. You can name anything you want that Auburn did or did not do and they have absolutely nothing to do with UK not being able to hit free throws.
    Free throws more than anything else cost UK the game. Several that they missed were the front ends of 1 and 1.
    Yes, I like Cal and I like UK, but I still think he needs an Assistant to run the offense.

    1. Also, you have to look at what Auburn has accomplished and give them credit.
      They beat 3 very experienced teams. Teams that have way more upper classmen than UK ever thought about under Cal.
      Look at the rosters of Tennessee, Kansas, and North Carolina. Look at all their upper classmen and the # of games they have played.
      This Auburn team beat them all and literally spanked KU and UNC.
      Auburn is on a roll kind of like UConn was a few years ago.
      If they keep playing this way, they will win it all.

  7. I can’t help but notice the dates on all these comments

    1. Are you calling all who made the above comments April fools Claude, lol’s? I know I have some thoughts on that too. Good point on some of them for sure. Some of us are just trying to support our team and these players who have given anybody with a brain a great season.

      1. A good season…not great by the Gold Standard!

  8. Larry
    My comment has the same date
    I was just hoping the whole situation was an April Fools and the Cats were still in the NCAA tournament

  9. Me to Claude. I am proud of this team anyway. They went a long way.

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