No. 12 Kentucky, No. 14 Auburn meet in early SEC showdown
The first marquee matchup of the Southeastern Conference regular season comes up Saturday when No. 12 Kentucky travels to No. 14 Auburn for a sold-out game.
Kentucky is 13-3 overall, 3-1 in the SEC. Auburn is 13-3, 2-1 in league play.
"I don't know that there's a team in our league that can't win anywhere, whether it's home or on the road," Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said. "You see five teams that are ranked and eight teams that are either ranked or getting votes. The road teams have had some success, too."
For Kentucky, this is the beginning of a brutal stretch against ranked competition. After this weekend, the Wildcats host No. 24 Mississippi State on Tuesday and No. 7 Kansas on Jan. 26 as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
"Bad news is you have as tough a schedule as anyone is going to be left playing," Wildcats coach John Calipari said. "Good news is you have an opportunity to beat ranked teams. You've also got a chance to get beat by those ranked teams."
The key statistic to watch when Kentucky meets Auburn is 3-point shooting.
Auburn is tied for fifth in the nation with 10.9 made 3-pointers per game and fourth in the country with an average of 30 attempts from behind the arc.
Kentucky, by contrast, is among the worst in the nation at defending the 3-point shot. The Wildcats rank 286th out of 351 teams at 36.3 percent. The number is even worse at 38.5 percent over four SEC games.
One statistic that tilts a bit in Kentucky's favor is rebounding. The Wildcats are No. 7 in the nation with a plus-9.8 rebound margin per game. Auburn is No. 46 at plus-5.4. However, the Tigers are elite when it comes to offensive rebounds, ranking No. 2 in the country at 15.8 per game. The Wildcats are tied for 60th at 12 per game.
The teams have three common opponents that produced identical outcomes.
Both the Wildcats and the Tigers lost to Duke. Kentucky was routed 118-84 in the Nov. 6 season opener while Auburn fell 78-72 in the Maui Invitational on Nov. 20.
In SEC play, Kentucky won 69-49 at Georgia, while Auburn beat the Bulldogs 93-78 at home. Kentucky defeated Texas A&M 85-74 at home while Auburn won 85-66 in College Station.
Interestingly, both teams were among the preseason favorites to win the SEC and both lost their first conference game -- Kentucky falling at Alabama, Auburn losing at Ole Miss. The Wildcats come into the Saturday showdown with a three-game winning streak while Auburn has won two straight.
"It will be a very exciting game," said Bryce Brown, Auburn's leading scorer at 16.2 points per game. "Every time we play Kentucky at home, the crowd and the fans are just amazing. The atmosphere, the intensity of a game. It will feel much like a rivalry. It's time to step up."
Brown has been stepping up since the season started, but never more than in Auburn's win Wednesday at Texas A&M. At one point in the first half, the senior guard scored 18 consecutive Auburn points in a span of just five minutes. He even went on his own 12-0 run against A&M, swishing four 3-pointers in a row.
"That had to be fun for Bryce. It was fun for us," Pearl said. "His teammates were really good getting him the ball, and that's what he does. You see it in practice. If he can see it, he can make it."
Kentucky has its own remarkable story in Ashton Hagans. In four SEC games, he is averaging 17 points after producing just 4.4 points per game in the Wildcats' 12 nonconference contests. He is shooting 58.1 percent from the floor in league play compared to 39.2 percent in nonleague action. His assists are up from 3.1 to 4.8 per game, and his steals have jumped from 1.8 to 3.8 per game.
"It starts with Ashton Hagans. Last year it started with Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander)," Calipari said. "If you've got a guy on the ball who cannot guard the ball, you cannot play defense. You will not have a good defense. That guy has to be able to guard the ball, and Ashton can."
--Field Level Media
Copyright 2019 by STATS. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.
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