By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — It would be easy for Kentucky to consider Saturday’s showdown at Auburn as a payback game, but the Wildcats won’t be taking that approach this weekend.
“(It’s) just more looking forward to a really good game,” Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley said Friday. “Auburn’s a really good team. I think they’re like 18-2 or something like that, so they’ve won a lot of games this year so far. So, we’re just going to have to be really locked in and hopefully get a win.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari agreed, adding that “every game is the same for us.”
“(We) can’t make one game bigger than the rest, because if I do that, then at some point, you’re going to start losing games,” Calipari said. “The whole thing is, it’s every game is its own game. … This has been an empowered team now. This is a player-driven team. They know what’s at stake. They know how hard this game is going to be. For us to win a game in that environment on (ESPN College) GameDay where they need it, hard game for us. I understand it. But let’s go in there and see where we are right now.”
The Tigers (18-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) edged the Wildcats 77-71 in last year’s NCAA Midwest Regional final before losing to Virginia in the national title game. Auburn, ranked as high as fifth this season before slipping to No. 17 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, won itd first 15 games before losing back-to-back road games at Alabama and Florida, respectively. Since then, Auburn has won three straight including an 83-82 double-overtime win at Mississippi.
“They really play tough,” Quickley said. “They play physical. They play fast, as usual. Shoot a lot of 3s, as usual. And like you guys said, it’s a really tough place to play. Everybody’s better at home, so they’ll be really fired up to play.”
Calipari said the Tigers are reminiscent of last year’s squad that reached the Final Four for the first time in school history.
“(They are) different players but they play the same,” he said. “They play hard. Bruce (Pearl) has got them doing what they do. They’re tough on the baseline out of bounds. If you get it in, they’re tough on sideline out. They run their little actions into isolations and, you know, different ways of getting easy baskets. They’re good. They’re a Top-20 team for a reason, and they won their first, what, 18, 19 games for a reason because they’re good.”
Kentucky (16-4, 6-1) has played well in its previous two road games at Arkansas and Texas Tech. The Wildcats are getting used to the road environments.
“I think all our away games have been really good this year,” Quickley said. “Coach Cal’s always taking to us before the game to go see the tents and stuff, people camping outside trying to see us play and things like that. Every environment so far has been really good and I don’t think Auburn will disappoint either.”
Quickley said the Wildcats won’t have a hard time getting motivated to play the Tigers, who will be hosting College GameDay for the first time school history.
“I think it’s easier to get pepped up for that type of game,” Quickley said. “I think that’s the next step for our team, is after playing a really big game, we gotta come back and have the same type of energy versus a team like Vandy or something like that, which is really capable of beating you. Coming back from games like that, we gotta be really locked in.”
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Gametracker: Kentucky at Auburn, 6 p.m., Saturday, ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.