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UK Hoops reveals true potential with runs in both halves against Auburn

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All five of Kentucky's starters scored in double figures in a 97-53 win over Auburn on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) All five of Kentucky's starters scored in double figures in a 97-53 win over Auburn on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky came into this season ranked sixth in the nation. Matthew Mitchell had six former McDonald's All-Americans on his roster and that didn't even include A'dia Mathies, the defending Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.

Clearly, the Wildcats' ceiling was high, but it may not have been clear exactly how high until Sunday afternoon.

Hosting Auburn, the Cats built a nine-point lead through the opening nine minutes. They had played reasonably well, but nothing like what would come next during a stretch of basketball that may have been UK's best of the season.

"I thought the players hustled and the more plays they made, the more aggressive they would get and it fueled their confidence," Mitchell said. "It was a very impressive defensive display there during that run."

Over 7:16, Kentucky went on a 24-2 run. The Cats made 8 of 16 from the field and hit 6-of-7 free throws. Even more notably, UK held Auburn to 1 of 8 shooting from the field and forced nine turnovers. Kentucky (18-1, 6-0 SEC) went from having a single-digit lead to being up by 31 points en route to a dominant 97-53 victory over Auburn (13-6, 2-4 SEC) that gave the Cats their 17th win in a row.

"It felt great," Mathies said. "We just knew that if we kept putting the pressure on and just trying to run them as much as we could, we felt like we had more depth and we could sub somebody out and we felt like they couldn't."

Mathies scored eight points during the extended burst, accounting for a third of her season-high 24. The senior guard tied her career high with five 3-pointers and didn't miss a shot until early in the second half. She made 8-of-9 attempts from the field on the game and was 3 of 4 from the foul line.

"I'm just out there playing and luckily the shots went in," Mathies said. "My teammates did a great job of setting me up."

Her big afternoon was clearly more than just luck. She is shooting 42.2 percent from beyond the arc in 2012-13, almost five percent better than a career high she set as a junior. With 43 3-pointers, she's also just nine away from setting a career high with half the SEC schedule and postseason play still on the horizon.

"I think she's playing with tremendous control right now and confidence," Mitchell said. "If you leave her open right now at the 3-point stripe, you are paying dearly because she's shooting the ball so well."

As well as Mathies and her teammates played during that first-half run, the second half was not without its tests. UK built its lead to as large as 39 points within a few minutes of halftime, but Auburn stormed back to within 74-50 with 7:23 left after Hasina Muhammad scored her fourth basket in less than two minutes.

"It's hard when you're up 30 at halftime," Mitchell said. "It takes tremendous discipline to come back out and be focused. We are trying to hold ourselves to high standards. We're not trying to look at the scoreboard; we're trying to play the best that we can because that's what we've committed to doing."

It didn't take long for the Cats to get back to an effort that made them look like a team that will contend for a Final Four berth come NCAA Tournament time. It wasn't quite the 24-2 burst of the first half, but UK closed the game on a 23-3 run.

"This team continues to build trust and they continue to show up and play hard," Mitchell said. "Maybe we could have played less hard today and won, but that's not the goal for us. The goal is for us to play our best."

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