By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl certainly didn’t hold back when it came to praising Kentucky guards Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley after they helped UK beat his team 73-66 Saturday.
The trio made just 10 of 35 shots but Quickley still had 18 points — he was 11-for-11 at the foul line — and 12 rebounds. Maxey had 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Hagans had five assists, four points, three rebounds and three steals.
“I don’t know three better guards in the league, or in the country. What team has got three better guards that play defense, that can score the basketball? ” Pearl said.
Quickley leads UK in scoring at 16.3 points per game with Maxey next at 14. Quickley is hitting 42 percent from 3-point range and 92.2 percent at the foul line while Maxey is a 82.3 percent shooter at the foul line. Hagans hits 81.2 percent from the foul line and they have combined to shoot 304 free throws in 29 games — or 10.5 per game. The three are combining for 12.7 rebounds per game and Hagans leads UK with 187 assists and 57 steals — but also with 100 turnovers.
“They are hard to guard. Ashton goes down to the line a lot and they all go to the (foul) line a lot because they are hard to stay in front of,” Pearl said. “(Auburn center) Austin (Wiley) played 21 minutes because he was in foul trouble all night. They bring it right to the basket and they are hard to stay in front of.”
Pearl said Auburn tried different players on Quickley, who had 12 points the second half. He was just 3-for-10 from the field in the game.
“We had a hard time covering him. Isaac Okoro had him a lot in the second half and we had taken Isaac, but you know, Maxey and Quickley are 18 for 19 from the free-throw line. So we had a hard time covering them, we fouled them too much,” Pearl said.
Auburn guard J’Von McCormick said even though Quickley didn’t make shots, he played well.
“We knew that he was going to be a factor in the matchups today so we just tried to make him a no factor in the game and we couldn’t,” McCormick said.
Pearl warned that stopping Kentucky won’t be easy for any team in the SEC or maybe in the NCAA Tournament.
“I love them. I really like Kentucky’s team. I really like their coach. They did an amazing job. I think they are very undervalued. I’ll tell you right now, if we don’t play them again I am rooting for them. I am rooting for them to go a long way,” Pearl said.