Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Big Blueprint: Cats deliver knockout Coach Cal wanted at Auburn

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
The Big Blueprint is back. A rapid recap of the game, the Big Blueprint looks at the nuts and bolts of the latest UK game when Cat Scratches is not in attendance. Tonight, we break down UK's 75-53 win at Auburn.

The skinny: After a close home victory over Tennessee on Tuesday, John Calipari delivered a challenge to his team, saying the Wildcats wouldn't be "whomping on" opponents as his teams have in past seasons. On Saturday in Auburn, Ala., UK proved him wrong. After sputtering out of the gates, the Cats trailed Auburn 6-4 with just over 11 minutes left in the first half. They hit just two of their first 14 shots, including 0 for 7 from 3 and appeared destined to for another tight one, as predicted by Coach Cal. From that point forward, the Cats dominated. UK (12-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) scored 71 points over the final 31:02 en route to a 75-53 victory over Auburn (8-9, 2-2 SEC). Kentucky shot 68.3 percent from the field over that stretch and 5 of 8 (62.5 percent) from 3. The Tigers, meanwhile, were held to 23 of 66 from the field, including 0 of 15 from beyond the arc for the game, the first time a UK opponent has failed to make a 3 since Mississippi State went 0 for 19 on Feb. 10, 2001. Kyle Wiltjer (17 points) was one of five UK players to score double figures.

The difference: Fun and cohesion. At no point this season have the Cats seemed to enjoy playing with one another more than on Saturday night. Players shared the ball willingly, crashed the boards together and were all smiles for much of the night.

Player of the game:
Wiltjer. For the second straight game, Wiltjer scored 17 points and, for the second straight game, Wiltjer looked like UK's best offensive player. He dropped in three 3s and added four rebounds, but it was his passing that turned heads. With Nerlens Noel on the bench due to two first-half fouls and Willie Cauley-Stein back in Lexington recovering from a knee injury, it was up to Wiltjer and Alex Poythress to man the post for much of the second half. Operating out of the high post, Wiltjer fed Poythress on the baseline repeatedly, leading to dunks and free-throw opportunities. For the game, Wiltjer finished with five assists, tying a career high.

Turning point: Poor second-half starts have been a problem all season, which was cause for concern when UK took a 30-25 lead into halftime. Against Auburn, the Cats put those struggled behind them by stretching the lead to 16 points by the under-12 media timeout. After scoring two points on 1-of-5 shooting and committing three turnovers in the first half, it was Ryan Harrow who led the charge. He scored three straight UK baskets at one point and had eight points during the 23-12 spurt that gave the Cats a double-digit lead they wouldn't relinquish. On the night, Harrow had 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

Key stat: Rebounding. With Cauley-Stein unavailable, you couldn't help but worry about how a shorthanded UK frontcourt would handle itself on the glass. At least on Saturday, those concerns were proven to be unfounded, even with Noel limited to 11 first-half minutes. UK outrebounded Auburn 43-30, its largest margin in SEC play this season. Noel played just 25 minutes, but led the way with nine rebounds to go with his 10 points and seven blocks.

Unsung hero: Archie Goodwin. Playing a team-high 35 minutes, the dynamic freshman had one of his most efficient games as a Wildcat. He took just seven shots, but made five and a pair of free throws to give him 12 points along with a career-high-tying three steals and just two turnovers. Just as importantly, he crashed the glass hard in grabbing seven rebounds.

He said what?: "Neither one of us could (make a shot) for a while. I thought we gutted it out and then there was great execution when they made a mini-run at us." - Calipari

"He's playing better and he wants it. He's playing more aggressive. There's no tentativeness to his game and that's how I want him to play." - Calipari on Wiltjer

"When we started playing good and going down the stretch, we just kind of huddled together and said that we needed to start burying teams because in the past we've played around with them." - Wiltjer on responding to Calipari's comments about UK not being able to "whomp on" opponents

"I'd like to get to the point where I'm not coaching effort. We're getting closer hopefully." - Calipari

"We're trying to get our guys bought in. And this was a good step for us." - Calipari

What this one means
: It's only one game in a long season, but Saturday night was a big step forward for a team that is still learning about itself. The Cats took on a team that had played well of late, built a lead and didn't blink down the stretch. Coach Cal expressed doubts about whether his team could maintain its focus long enough to bury an opponent, but UK proved itself able in a tough road environment at Auburn. The Cats will return to Lexington for a day-and-a-half before flying back down for another away game in Alabama against the Crimson Tide on Tuesday night.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment

Recent Comments