Kentucky escaped a rowdy Auburn Arena with arguably its biggest win of the season on Saturday. The entire starting five played well and the Cats controlled the scoreboard for most of the entire game, holding off multiple Auburn comeback attempts, to earn the 82-80 victory over sweaty Bruce Pearl and his Tigers. If there were any fans out there who still needed a reason to get excited about Kentucky this year, the win should have us all on the same page.
Let’s talk about it.
Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis bounced back with big games.
Considered to be two of Kentucky’s best and most consistent players throughout the better part of the season, Johnson and Travis were struggling entering Saturday’s game. Johnson had just hung a goose egg in the scoring column at Georgia, and Travis appeared to be having trouble against the length and athleticism of the SEC. They were each in a small slump by their standards, but they each bounced back at Auburn with two very good performances.
Johnson shared high-scorer honors with Tyler Herro at 20 points apiece, while Travis got back into double figures for the first time in four games with 17 points in addition to seven rebounds. John Calipari said, “I thought Reid Travis was really good today,” in his postgame comments.
Johnson also looked like he found his swagger after it appeared he was mentally checked out in Athens. He played with the confidence and attitude that has always been a big part of his game.
It’s great to have both back.
The Cats dodged a slow start.
My biggest concern before the game was how Kentucky would handle the first three or four minutes. Auburn Arena is a very dangerous environment and I worried a couple of early three-pointers by Jared Harper or Bryce Brown could put UK in a hole it couldn’t climb out of. But Kentucky avoided early trouble and even held the lead after the three or four minute stretch I worried about, and then after a little back and forth, went on a 19-2 run to extend its lead, a lead it would never lose. In fact, Kentucky led for over 32 minutes. It was a great end-to-end performance, even when Auburn did all it could to come back. Speaking of that….
Kentucky hit so many “shut the %*&!” up” shots.
So many times, Auburn hit a huge shot to cut the deficit, only for Kentucky to hit one right back on the other end. The crowd would erupt and the Auburn guards would get that confident smile as if they knew they were back in the game, but Kentucky would drain what I like to call the “shut the %*&! up” shot on the other end to silence the crowd and keep a comfortable lead. Two that come to mind are the Keldon Johnson three-pointer to counter Bryce Brown’s three-pointer, and Tyler Herro hitting a three-pointer to erase another Brown three. Both shots put the fans’ butts back in their seats and it happened time and time again. Those responses showed the Kentucky players weren’t bothered by the pressure and that’s a quality of a great team.
Auburn really missed Austin Wiley.
Not to take away from Kentucky’s big win, but it is worth noting Auburn was without its star big man, Austin Wiley. Wiley is a projected first-round NBA draft pick next summer and the Tigers’ leading rebounder and shot blocker. It’s hard to say if he would’ve changed the outcome of the game, but it certainly didn’t hurt the Cats’ chances having him on the bench, especially given the foul trouble Auburn faced inside. Wiley could’ve been a difference-maker, but that’s a big Auburn problem, not a me or you or Kentucky problem. Sorry about your luck, Bruce.
I’ll say it: Jared Harper and Bryce Brown are fun to watch.
Now that they’ve taken their L, I have no problem admitting Auburn’s two veteran guards are a lot of fun. That three Harper hit with 30 seconds left in the game, I feel like I’ve seen him hit it 20 times over the course of his career. He’s so clutch and I’m so glad he didn’t get the last look because I would’ve bet my entire bank account that he’d make it. I think Immanuel Quickley’s missed free throw was a blessing.
Then there’s Brown going 6-for-7 from outside, many of them contested and off-balance, to finish with 28 points. They’re a dangerous duo and Kentucky still managed to fly home with a win. Whew.
I’m going to break KSR company police and make a comment about the officiating.
That flagrant foul call was horrendous. I’m sorry the guy lost a little bit of blood on the fall but there is no way anyone can say PJ Washington wasn’t making a play on the ball. That’s a terrible call. Horrible call. Inexplicable call.
Luckily, Auburn wasn’t able to capitalize on the extra possession.
Ashton Hagans with a quiet but good game running the show.
Hagans had his hands full with the assignment of trying to contain Jared Harper and he didn’t match his 16 points per game output of the last five games, but he still made a huge impact with six assists and a career-high seven rebounds.
His best play of the game, though, was telling Keldon Johnson to, “Wake the f— up.”
It’s his team to run and he knows it. Cal has his next great point guard.
Kentucky is looking like a dangerous team as March gets closer.
The version of Kentucky we saw at Auburn on Saturday is as good as any team in the country. The entire starting five played well and the guys off the bench made big contributions, while playing in one of the toughest environments they’ll face all season against a hot-shooting team that wouldn’t go away. I’m not sure I’d trade rosters with any other team in the country right now because the Cats are gradually putting it all together and looking better and better as the season rolls on. Come March, they’re going to be very dangerous if they continue to come together and push forward.
This was a big statement win for their resume and for their confidence.
John Calipari: “For us to win, Keldon (Johnson) and Tyler (Herro) are going to have to score baskets.”
By Jack Pilgrim on ©January 19th, 2019 @ 9:30pm
Two nights ago, Kentucky head coach John Calipari had an epiphany. And though it may sound simple on the surface, it actually might have been exactly what the Wildcats needed to go into Auburn Arena and take home a victory in a hostile environment.
“I woke up and I said, ‘For us to win, Keldon (Johnson) and Tyler (Herro) are going to have to score baskets,” he said.
Kentucky’s two leading scorers on the season need the ball in their hands more and make more shots. Novel concept, right?
But it wasn’t just about getting shots up for the pair of Wildcat freshmen. It had to do with running packages for each of them, specifically down the stretch when the team needs to hit a big shot. Calipari decided that either Johnson or Herro simply had to be the go-to options.
“We came up with some stuff to run specifically to Keldon, packages that we’ve been working on,” he said. “The other thing we did is ask ourselves who we would go to if we need a shot late. Who we would run to, and what are we running?”
And what ended up happening? Herro and Johnson combined for 13 of Kentucky’s final 14 points, giving the Wildcats just enough to take home the gritty victory over No. 14 Auburn on the road.
Calipari said that he was happy both Herro and Johnson are demanding the ball now and looking for their own shot. The development is coming.
“Yeah, I am seeing (Herro’s development),” he said. “He wanted the ball, wanted it to come to him. I like the fact that Keldon [Johnson] was telling me he wanted it too.”
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl also had high praise for the Kentucky duo, saying the Tigers had no answers for each of them on the defensive end of the floor.
“I thought that obviously Keldon Johnson and Herro had big nights for them,” said Pearl. “I think they looked right over our guards. They just looked right over the top of our guards and made shots and was able to get to the rim. We weren’t able to put up enough pressure to be able to extend them far enough away from the basket where that was a factor.
“Tyler Herro was an elite high school player; could have gone anywhere in the country,” he continued. “He’s a big-time athlete. I mean, he’s a big kid. So, no, I mean — I think Keldon and Tyler’s ability at guard, at 6-6, 6-7, whatever they are, was a factor.”
Pearl went as far as to say this Kentucky team, led by Johnson and Herro, is better than last year’s group.
“Kentucky played well,” he said. “They’re good. They’re good. Definitely. They’re better than last year’s team. And I think they’re going to have a really good year.”
He followed up on those comments later, saying this group is “built like champions.”
“There’s a real will to win there,” Pearl said. “They would rather win and score less than maybe just put up their numbers. Those kids are built — they’re built, really, like champions.”
Calipari said that he understands they’ll make mistakes on both ends of the floor, just like Herro did by fouling Bryce Brown from behind the 3-point line down the stretch. Kentucky’s 14-point lead slipped to 11, which ended up being part of an 11-0 run to cut the lead to just three.
“This is a work in progress, this is a new team that has never played together so it’s a disadvantage that we have, but sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know,” he said. “They don’t know that they aren’t supposed to come in here and win, be up seventeen, they’re just playing.
“The problem is that once the game gets going they revert, and start playing like it’s a high school game. For example, that Tyler foul on Bryce Brown, fouling him, and I asked why he’d do that when we’re ready to bury them? So that’s the kind of stuff where we just have to tighten the ship up.”
On the day, Herro finished with 20 points on 6-12 shooting to go with three rebounds, four assists, and one steal.
As for Johnson, the star forward out of South Hill, VA also added 20 points (7-11 shooting, 2-5 from three), along with three rebounds. This comes just one game after his zero-point, 0-6 performance against Georgia on Tuesday evening.
As the great Rex Chapman always says, great players never have two bad games in a row, and Johnson proved why he falls in that category.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 19th, 2019 @ 7:43pm
Early on, it looked like Keldon Johnson might be on his way to another bad game. After going scoreless vs. Georgia, the freshmen let a pass from Ashton Hagans sail through his hands out of bounds, prompting Hagans to yell at him, “Wake the f— up!”
— Just-in (@Justin_BBN) January 19, 2019
Thankfully, Keldon did wake up, finishing with 20 points off 7-11 from the floor, 2-5 from behind the three-point line, his best offensive outing since the North Carolina game. When asked about it after the game, Keldon said he appreciated Ashton’s tough love.
“He just told me, you’ve got to wake up, man. It’s not acceptable. If we’re going to be the team we’re gonna be, you’ve got to wake up. We need you to play. I did it for my teammates. They had my back and I had theirs. I just went out there and played.”
Not everyone would accept Ashton’s call-out in such a mature manner, especially a freshman used to leading his team in scoring; however, Keldon said he knew it came from a good place.
“Definitely. In a positive way. I know he always wants what’s best for me. We might argue sometimes on the court, but I know my teammates always want what’s best for me.”
“We all know that we have each other’s back, regardless of if it’s now, beginning of the season, or later down the road. You’ve just got to accept it because if they’re telling you something, they’re not just doing it just because. They’re doing it because they want what’s best for you and what’s best for the team.”
Once Keldon did get going, Ashton kept encouraging him.
“He was just like, you’ve got to just keep playing. Just keep going, keep going. We need you. We need you. Same thing for him. We need him the whole game. We need everybody. Tyler, Reid, PJ, Jemarl, everybody that played tonight.”
Tyler Herro said it wasn’t just Ashton holding people accountable; early in the game, he said something similar to PJ Washington.
“Really all the way from the beginning of the game to the end. When Ashton said that Keldon, I was saying it to PJ. Just sticking together. Keldon, he took it the right way and when guys are taking it the right way, the sky’s the limit because we all have each other’s back. As long as we’re holding each other accountable, we’ll be fine.”
By Jack Pilgrim on ©January 19th, 2019 @ 7:20pm
John Calipari and Charles Barkley have been buddies for quite some time, going on record at one point to say they were “friends for life” on Calipari’s podcast back in 2016.
Tonight, they proved just that by participating in some friendly banter following Kentucky’s 82-80 victory on the road at Auburn.
During Calipari’s postgame press conference, Charles Barkley walked in while the Kentucky head coach was breaking down the victory, causing Coach Cal to go off script a bit.
“I’m telling EJ (Montgomery) when I’m walking by him, he should be yelling at me, “I’m better than Charles Barkley,”‘ he said.
Barkley was quick to throw his own jab back.
“I was yelling at you too, I was yelling, “F— John Calipari,” he said.
After some laughs and a hug between the Kentucky head coach and NBA legend, Coach Cal jumped right back in with the banter.
“Where is that statue? I tore it down, did you know?”
“It’s big over here,” Barkley responded. “(They made me) skinny too.”
Here was the entire exchange:
— Menser (@bballmenser) January 20, 2019
Earlier in the game, the former Tiger forward joined the broadcast to talk about the game and the status of the Auburn program under coach Bruce Pearl. Barkley said that Pearl would have to recruit lower-end talent and develop them at an elite level because McDonald’s All-Americans won’t be flocking to play at Auburn.
Dick Vitale then asked Barkley if he was a McDonald’s All-American when he came out of high school, to which Barkley replied that he wasn’t, but he sure eats a lot of McDonald’s.
Look at the exchange below:
Dickie V: Were you a McDonald's All-American?
Charles Barkley: No, I ate at McDonald's
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 19, 2019
Never a dull moment with Charles Barkley.
For the first in the Calipari era, Kentucky defeated a Top 15 SEC team on the road. The Cats withstood a late flurry of threes from Bryce Brown to hold on for an 82-80 victory over the fourteenth-ranked Auburn Tigers.
Auburn’s sharp-shooter scored just three points on two shots in the first half, but in the second half Brown was on fire. He made all five threes to finish with 28 points and erase a 17-point Kentucky lead. Luckily, Tyler Herro was prepared to answer.
Herro scored ten points in the final six minutes to help the Cats overcome an absurd late flagrant foul on P.J. Washington. Jared Harper’s three-pointer gave Auburn a one-point lead with 30 seconds to go. Herro answered with a pair of made free throws to give Kentucky the lead. Harper’s contested two rimmed out to secure the UK win.
Kentucky put all of the pieces together to win a hard-fought, nail-biter on The Plains. The future is bright for the Wildcats.
After an impressive win in Athens, UK’s road trip will continue with a clash against Bruce Pearl’s Auburn squad on The Plains. Both teams enter this weekend with one SEC road loss and to keep pace with Tennessee (plus LSU and South Carolina at the moment) they will need a victory today.
In Pearl’s fifth season, the Tigers entered this year with very high expectations. They haven’t disappointed to this point. Auburn has been in the top-15 all season and took Duke to the wire in the Maui Invitational. However, they are still looking for a marquee win and could secure one today.
Get ready for a January college basketball game with some stakes on a Saturday afternoon at Auburn Arena.
Nuts and Bolts
Through their history, Auburn has been one of the least successful basketball programs in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers have only made the NCAA Tournament nine times and their first appearance didn’t come until 1984 when Charles Barkley was on campus. After going to the Big Dance for five straight years under Sonny Smith in the 80s, the Tigers have only made four appearances in the 29 years since.
After parting with Cliff Ellis following 186 wins, five NCAA Tournament victories, and a SEC championship the Tigers hit a rough patch. It was a real ugly decade under Jeff Lebo and Tony Barbee. Following that run, Auburn’s decision makers made a swing for the fence and hired Bruce Pearl.
The former Tennessee head coach was doing television work for ESPN following his firing and he jumped at the chance to get back on the sidelines in the SEC. After a long rebuilding job that included two losing seasons, Pearl now has the Tigers competing for league crowns.
Auburn won the SEC regular season title last season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. This season Pearl has the Tigers back in the hunt. They’re doing it just like you think they would.
The Tigers play at a fast pace and love the three-point shot. As a team, Auburn is shooting 36.7 percent from deep this season and this ranks in the top-70 in the country. On defense, Auburn will use a press and is constantly putting pressure on the ball. Their defense ranks first in the country in turnover percentage. Opponents are coughing up the rock on 27.8 percent of their possessions. This is a very good basketball team.
Today will be the 112th meeting between the two SEC schools with Kentucky owning a 92-19 series lead. The Tigers have won two of the last three after the Wildcats won 18 in a row running from February 2001 until March 2015. Since Auburn Arena opened in 2010, UK owns a 3-2 advantage in games played this beautiful new facility.
Out in the desert, Auburn is a 4.5 point favorite with a total of of 144.5. That’s a projected final score of 74.5-70. On the season, UK is 7-9 against the spread while Auburn is 8-6-1. Kentucky is 1-3 against the number in SEC play.
Ashton Hagans has been on a tear lately and he’s currently making a run at first-team All-SEC honors. To get there, however, he is going to have to beat out Jared Harper.
The sub six-foot point guard leads the team in minutes and is putting up 15.1 points per game to go along with 6.7 assists. He’s shooting over 40 percent from three and is second on the team in free throw attempts. He’s a maestro in ball screen actions and is this team’s most important player. However, he does have a weakness. The junior from Mableton, Georgia is only shooting 34.2 percent on two-point shots.
Next to Harper is a senior who has played a lot of basketball. Bryce Brown has been starting games since his freshman season and the veteran from Georgia is one of the best two-guards in the SEC. Brown is shooting 37.7 percent from three and leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game. He’s a high volume three-point shooter with 72.5 percent of his 191 shot attempts coming from behind the arc.
To no one’s surprise, Bruce Pearl rolls with a version of small ball and an important piece in doing that is the three. After losing Mustapha Heron to an unexpected transfer, the Tigers plugged in their own transfer.
Samir Doughty sat out last season after moving over from VCU and the junior wing from Philadelphia has been outstanding. The 6-foot-4 perimeter player is shooting 44.4 percent from three and his been this offense’s most efficient player. He’s also Auburn’s best perimeter defender and don’t be surprise he guards multiple players for Kentucky today.
Auburn’s top backcourt option off the bench is senior wing Malik Dunbar. The 6-foot-6 combo guard/forward is another solid three-point shooter and a excellent defender. Backing up Jared Harper at the point is junior college transfer J’Von McCormick. The small guard from Texas barely plays 10 minutes per outing, but he is another excellent three-point shooter.
Due to the FBI investigation that shocked that college basketball world last season, Auburn was forced to play 2017-2018 without one of its best players. Boy, are they happy to have Austin Wiley back in the lineup this season.
The former top-40 recruit was a major recruiting win for Bruce Pearl out of Hoover, Alabama and he’s now showing why after playing sparingly as a freshman. The 6-foot-11 and 260-pound man is just playing 17.4 minutes per game, but is putting up over 10 points and 6 rebounds while he is on the floor. He is shooting 58.1 percent from the floor and has attempted 65 free throws despite the limited minutes. He’s had issues with foul trouble, but he’s bear to deal with when he’s in the paint.
Wiley gets all of the attention, but Chuma Okeke is this frontcourt’s most impactful player. The 6-foot-8 sophomore was a top-50 prospect out of high school who has been outstanding in doing the dirty work. The Atlanta native is the team’s top offensive rebounder, is second on the team in blocks and steals, and is shooting a fiery 63.1 percent from two-point range. He is third on the team in minutes and will be a key factor is slowing down UK’s bigs.
Auburn’s season changed for the worse when Anfernee McLemore was knocked out last February. In those eight games without him to end the season, Auburn went 3-5 and limped to the finish with embarrassing blowout losses to Alabama and Clemson in postseason play. To put it lightly, Bruce Pearl is very happy to see the the 6-foot-7 undersized five-man back out on the hardwood.
McLemore has played every game this season with 11 starts and paces the team in blocks after leading the SEC last season. He is the ultimate glue guy who is very important to this team’s chemistry. The fourth big off the bench is 6-foot-8 senior Horace Spencer who is the least efficient of all the rotation players.
The Tigers are deep up front, but outside of Wiley they are undersized. On paper, Kentucky’s size advantage could allow the Wildcats to impose their will in the paint. However, the game is not played on paper.
Keys to Victory
- Start fast, start fast, start fast. Since SEC play started, the starts have been pretty ugly for Kentucky but it has yet to hurt them. The Alabama game was lost in the middle of the second half while UK came back to win comfortably against Georgia, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt. However, not many teams have a knockout punch like Auburn. If UK comes out slow, the Tigers could deliver a haymaker that could end the game before the first media timeout. UK must be ready for the early storm.
- Everyone knows that Auburn is going to attempt over 30 three-point shots in the game. That’s not news. It’s their DNA. But what they also do well is rebound their misses. The Tigers rank third in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (39.5%). They know how to gobble up the long misses. Kentucky has been giving way too many offensive rebounds of late. They must limit possessions as much as possible.
- Three-point defense. Three-point defense. Three-point defense. But you already know this. Cats must be ready to challenge on the perimeter.
- Auburn’s defense forces turnovers on 27.8 percent of possessions. This is the top rate in the country. This will be the biggest challenge Ashton Hagans has faced this season. He must handle Auburn’s pressure, play great perimeter defense, and control the tempo to get Kentucky playing at a comfortable pace. Do all that and UK has something really special at point.
- Jared Harper is one of the best point guards in the country, but he has one glaring weakness. The junior is shooting just 34.2 percent from two-point range. He is excellent in ball screens, but UK must play him smart. Don’t leave shooters. Make Harper make shots in the paint over length.
ESPN College GameDay is headed back to Rupp Arena for the third straight year.
This morning, the GameDay crew announced they would be headed to Lexington to see Kentucky take on Kansas on January 26.
ESPN @CollegeGameDay is returning to Lexington next weekend for our SEC/Big 12 Challenge showdown vs. Kansas. We can’t wait. But business to take care of today first.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 19, 2019
Reece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg will be in town to preview the two winningest teams in college basketball history, with Bulas, Dan Shulman and Maria Taylor calling the game.
As always, admission will be free and fans are encouraged to attend. Seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, with the gates opening at 9:00 a.m. and the live show starting at 11:00 a.m.
Signs will also be permitted at the show, though they are subject to screening for the telecast.
Students interested in attending ESPN College GameDay and/or the Kentucky-Kansas game are allowed to start lining up at the student gate no earlier than 5:00 a.m. Students attending both GameDay and the game itself will receive a numbered wristband and will be required to return to the student gate by 3:00 p.m., where they will be places in numbered order to get in when the gates open at 4:30 p.m.
We’ll see you there, BBN.
Kentucky’s not-so-secret keys of the Auburn game? Getting off to a fast start and limiting three-pointers
By Jack Pilgrim on ©January 18th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
The Kentucky Wildcats are set for their first true road game of the season against a top-15 opponent in the Auburn Tigers.
And it’s really no secret what the keys of the game are for Kentucky to pull off the victory.
Averaging 84.5 points (No. 2 in the SEC) and 10.9 three-point field goals (No. 1 in the SEC) per game, Auburn is one of the most explosive offensive teams not only in the conference, but in all of college basketball. In order to come out of Auburn Arena with a victory tomorrow afternoon, Kentucky must find a way to get over their slow starts and issues defending the three-point line.
During the team’s pregame media opportunity this afternoon, Kentucky guards Tyler Herro and Jemarl Baker said those two fairly obvious keys of the game have been stressed relentlessly over the course of the week during practice and film sessions.
Herro actually says despite the obvious difficulties of playing on the road against an elite opponent, he’s excited for the challenge.
“They get up and down, shoot a lot of threes like a few teams we’ve already seen this season,” he said. “It’ll be a fun game, good atmosphere. (We’ve just got to keep) playing defense, they’re going to make a few shots, but we’ve just got to stay with each other and keep competing.”
During practice, Herro said Kentucky head coach John Calipari is giving them specific tips and techniques to help slow down the rapid-fire mindset the Tigers possess.
“Coach has been emphasizing, obviously, limiting threes,” he said. “He gave us a few ways, you know, putting our hand up early, so when the shooter sees our hand it makes them think a little bit before he shoots it.
Against Alabama, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Georgia, Kentucky got off to a cold start and it took some clawing and fighting in each of those performances to make strong comebacks. In one of them (Alabama), the slow start from the jump was too much to overcome and the Wildcats went home with a loss.
When you factor in the overall talent of the opposition and the fact that they’ll be playing in a hostile environment, Kentucky can’t afford the same slow start we’ve seen over the last four matchups. And Herro knows that.
“Coach emphasized that it’s a big game, that we’ve got to come out strong the first few possessions,” he said. “Because of the atmosphere, it’s going to be really loud, so we’ve got to communicate early, go with the gameplan, and stick with it.”
Kentucky shooting guard Jemarl Baker agrees with Herro, saying Calipari is making it known that something needs to change with his team’s starts, and it needs to happen against Auburn.
“(Calipari) definitely stressed we need to start well, and it’s just something we have to work at,” he said. “We’ve started well in some games and then had other bad games where we didn’t start well. We need to push to start well when the tip comes, we have to be ready.”
So why has it been such a struggle at the start of games lately?
“I don’t know why, but we need to be engaged right from the tip,” Herro said. “If we have one or two guys that aren’t engaged right from the start, we have breakdowns on defense and that’s where they get threes and dunks.”
Baker said his team needs to play like they have nothing to lose, with their second half performance against Georgia being a great example of how good they can be with intensity.
“We just have to pride in everything we do, go out there and play hard, leave everything out on the court,” said Baker.
One of those individuals that never fails to leave it all out on the court is Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans. Against Auburn, Hagans will be tasked with defending Tiger sharpshooter Jared Harper, who is currently averaging 15.1 points and 6.7 assists per game, all while shooting 40 percent from the three-point line.
Baker said the Kentucky star point guard won’t back down against the elite competition.
“His intensity is always high, it doesn’t change from practice to practice or game to game,” Baker said. “As you can see, he gets steals every game, plays well.
Herro agrees, saying he understands Harper is a guy capable of knocking down shots anywhere on the floor, but he’s confident in Hagans’ ability to take the game over on the defensive end of the floor.
“Giving him the assignment, you know he can shoot, but Ashton is a great defender that can get up into him and won’t allow him to get in transition and knock down threes,” he said.
No disrespect to Harper or any of the other stellar players on the Auburn roster, but Herro says he will take his guys every time.
“He’s a good point guard, but we’ve got two great point guards ourselves, so we’ll see what happens Saturday,” he said.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 18th, 2019 @ 6:00pm
Finally, a Top Chef Kentucky with some more Kentucky! This week, the chefs try their hand at an iconic Kentucky dish and celebrate the state’s bountiful produce and livestock. Well, some of them do, at least. To the recap!
Quickfire Challenge: Reimagine the Hot Brown
The hot brown is one of Kentucky’s most famous dishes, and after hearing about its history, the chefs are tasked with putting their own spin on it. Lena Waithe, an insanely talented actor, screenwriter, and producer, serves as guest judge, and if you haven’t seen the Thanksgiving episode of “Master of None” for which she won an Emmy, consider it your homework.
This Quickfire Challenge is a tough one—will the Cheftestants crack under the pressure? ??
— Bravo's Top Chef (@BravoTopChef) January 17, 2019
Justin and Kentucky girl Sara are the early favorites for the Quickfire Challenge since both serve hot browns in their restaurants. Unfortunately, Sara’s take on the dish, a Scotch Egg, doesn’t get on the plate in time and she’s disqualified, not the first time she’ll struggle in this episode. Of the other hot browns, Padma and Lena give low marks to Brian’s “Nashville Hot Turkey,” which was too dry, and Kelsey’s “Croque Madame Hot Brown,” which had a vinaigrette sauce instead of mornay and was therefore wayyyy too healthy to be considered a Hot Brown. Eddie and Adrienne’s hot browns draw praise from Padma and Lena, but it’s Justin’s “Kentucky Fried Breakfast Brown” that gets the win. As someone who isn’t a fan of hot browns (which I’m sure is because I’ve never tried the one you’ll recommend), even I will admit that it looks delicious:
Elimination Challenge: Carne, Carne, Carne!
The show finally shines a spotlight on Kentucky’s bountiful produce and livestock in this episode, featuring Kentucky Proud products, locally grown ingredients, and locally raised livestock, specifically, beef. Famous chef Nancy Silverton comes in to help Padma present the challenge, which is to prepare a cut of Foxhollow Farm beef assigned to them. All of the chefs are starstruck by Nancy, which I’m sure if totally justified, but I save my fangirling for Dario Cecchini, aka the Mad Butcher of Panzano, who will break down the beef into cuts for the chefs. My husband and I went to Dario’s butcher shop when we went to Italy a few years ago, so this is a huge treat for me. As I wrote on the site afterwards, Dario is a true character and a master of his craft, so good on Top Chef for bringing him in. (That reminds me, we need to use some of that delicious herb salt we bought.)
Anyways, the chefs draw knives to see which cut of meat they’ll be working with. They’ll have 10 minutes to choose local Kentucky ingredients from the pantry, 30 minutes and $100 to spend at Whole Foods, and two hours the next day to prepare a dish for a group of local Kentucky farmers, and, of course, the judges. Brian, who works at a butcher shop on the side, is particularly stoked for this challenge, which Top Chef has taught us is either a really good or a really bad sign for his chances.
The next day, the chefs meet Dario at Decca, a restaurant in Louisville, and my man lives up to his reputation, sharpening his knives while growling “Carne!” and smiling maniacally as he breaks down the cow with ease. From there, the chefs take their cuts of meat and head to the kitchen to get to work.
I won’t bore you with the specifics of each dish, but it’s clear early on who’s in trouble. Kentucky girl Sara drew beef plate as her cut, which she admitted she’s not familiar with. She made it into a sausage, but the casings were too thick, resulting in a soft texture. As a last ditch effort, she throws the pieces in a pan in hopes of adding some crunch, but knows it’s not enough to save her dish. She says she’s “100 percent sure” she’s going home.
Meanwhile, Brandon and David both make steak tartare, which Tom rightfully calls them out on when he visits the kitchen. Brandon’s cut is a loin, so a delicious grilled NY Strip is an obvious choice, but he’s sticking with the tartare because his other attempts at steak so far this season haven’t landed him in the top three. As he’s making his vinaigrette, the top to the grape seed oil bottle falls off and ruins it, forcing him to add xanthan gum to thicken it. You can tell this isn’t going to turn out well.
Brian’s cut is the rib so he makes a charred ribeye, which sounds great, but he cuts off all the good parts. What should be a celebration of meat looks sad, and Tom tells the others after he samples it, “I don’t know how you could cook a piece of meat this poorly.” Ouch.
Most of the chefs struggle with this challenge but a few manage to do justice to the ingredients. Even though he has immunity, Justin nails his flank steak by keeping it simple with a marinade, some polenta and mustard greens. Similarly, Adrienne’s “Black and Bleu” NY Strip with bleu cheese and collard greens is full of flavor. Eddie draws praise for trying something different: ground brisket stuffed in local romaine, a spin on the Polish dish “Golumpki” to honor his Polish heritage.
After scolding the chefs for having “collective amnesia on how to deal with beef” (an awesome burn), Tom praises the three who actually did well: Justin, Adrienne, and Eddie. Eddie gets the win, his first solo victory of the competition, and ditches his resting bitch face for a smile! His prize is an apron signed by Dario and a trip to Tuscany to visit his butcher shop. I’m incredibly jealous. GET THE HERB SALT, EDDIE.
Sara, Brandon, and Brian end up in the bottom three. Tom tells Brian to “stop cooking scared,” aka, don’t torture a piece of meat that’s great all on its own, and lights into Brandon when Brandon reveals he used the xanthan gum as a thickener. Sara is moved to tears when Padma tells her how disappointed she is that a Kentucky girl struggled so much on a Kentucky challenge, but the judges are so pissed about Brandon’s thickener that he’s the one to go home instead. Get it together, Sara!
My Old Kentucky Home Takes
— Some of the Kentucky Proud products featured on the show:
- Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheeses (shoutout to Barren River Lake!)
- Evans Orchard produce (Georgetown)
- Weisenberger Grits (Midway)
- Elmwood Stock Farm Corn Meal (Georgetown)
- Townsends Sorghum Mill Pure Cane Sorghum (Jeffersonville)
- Gilkison Farm Black Raspberry Jam and cheese (Winchester)
- Foxhollow Farm beef (Crestwood)
— Did you know Kentucky is the largest beef-raising state east of the Mississippi? Me neither, but soon, all of my friends will.
Next week: Lake Cumberland with Below Deck‘s Captain Lee and Below Deck Med‘s Captain Sandy! Now we’re talking!
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 18th, 2019 @ 5:00pm
John Calipari previewed tomorrow’s big game at Auburn earlier this afternoon, and while we’ve already shared his comments on the Tigers’ three-point shooting and Keldon Johnson, there are some leftovers to pass along. Five, in fact.
1. Don’t expect him to change the starting lineup
If you’re like me, you’d like to see Nick Richards get the starting nod tomorrow, but Calipari said he’s not ready to switch things up just yet.
“Not yet, but it’s obviously I made the statement – when one guy is not engaged or not very good defensively, when two guys are not engaged they dunk the first five shots they shoot.”
Calipari said if he does make any changes with the bigs, it will be to give the other three some of PJ’s minutes.
“I like the minutes, how they were kind of divided. Probably PJ (Washington) got three or four more minutes and that could be distributed to the other guys, but I kind of liked the last game.”
2. Ashton Hagans is the one player he can count on right now
Hagans has blossomed into this team’s best player, and the one Calipari can count on to do exactly what he asks each game.
“I said this yesterday as we started game planning a little bit with the guys – I said, ‘The funny thing is what we just told Ashton to do I fully expect he’ll do that in the game. Some of you, not so much.’ Him, he watches. You tell him what you want him to do and he goes out and tries to do it. That’s part of what has made him what he is right now.”
3. Hagans vs. Harper
Tomorrow, Hagans will be tasked with slowing down Jared Harper, who’s averaging 15.1 points and an SEC-best 6.7 assists per game.
“You’ve got two really good guards. We’re not counting on Ashton to score. Let’s run our club and get people involved, and if you have opportunities to score do it. It’s not as though lets sit him out, but it’s going to be a good matchup. Those guys are veterans. They’ve been through it.”
4. Bruce Pearl: Friend or Foe?
“Why do you keep asking?” Cal joked with John Huang, who asked a similar question about Tom Crean. “You know, we don’t send Christmas cards, but I respect him and if I see him out on the road we’ll talk.”
Translation: Cal wants to beat him very badly.
5. On DeMarcus Cousins’ debut with the Warriors
As you’ve probably heard by now, Boogie will make his debut with the Warriors tonight at 10:30 p.m. (ESPN). Calipari said he can’t wait to see one of his favorite sons back on the court.
“Yeah, I’m happy for him,” Cal said. “I told their people out there, I was kind of happy they haven’t been playing great basketball. The guy laughed and I said, ‘No, I’m serious. So when he comes in this thing goes up, he’s going to get the credit he deserves because he’s a terrific player. He’s an All-Star.’”
Read the full transcript of Calipari’s comments after the jump.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 18th, 2019 @ 2:54pm
Auburn is a team that can light it up from the outside, ranking fifth in the country in threes made per game (10.9) and 24th in threes attempted per game (30.5). With Kentucky’s perimeter defense still one of the worst in the country (8.1 threes allowed per game on 22.4 attempts), John Calipari knows the Tigers will come out firing tomorrow.
“They’re going to shoot 35 [threes] and if you really guard them and really guard the three, they’re going to shoot 35 of them. They do it off the bounce, they do it off the catch, they do it in transition, they do it on the pick and rolls.”
The Cats have made strides with their three-point defense recently, but Calipari quipped that simply led to easy inside baskets for Georgia on Tuesday.
“Yeah, but then the team dunked the first five shots. We guarded the three well and then they dunked every ball on us. This is a work in progress.”
Kentucky’s been able to overcome slow starts for the most part, but with the competition only getting stronger, Calipari warned his players that’s a luxury they can no longer afford.
“When you’re playing really good teams and they get you down, they’re not letting you back in. Then you’ll make your run and you’re exhausted. And they make a run and it’s back to where it was. The start of the game is important. The first five minutes of each half are important.”
Translation: don’t let Bryce Brown (37.8% 3PT FG) and Jared Harper (40.2% 3PT FG) get going while also defending Austin Wiley in the post. That’s a pretty tall task in what will be a wild Auburn Arena.
“This is a team that’s shooting 35 threes and if they make 20, what’s the next game? They’re shooting whether you’re on them, hanging on them. They’re shooting them. Long rebounds matter in this game. I like to press a pressing team. I like to drive a driving team. I’m not so apt to shoot the three with a three-point shooting team, we don’t play that way, but I guess that would be the other side. We’ll shoot more threes than they do.”
Paging Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson.
By Aaron Torres on ©January 18th, 2019 @ 12:00pm
While it’s probably a bit too early to say that the Kentucky Wildcats have “turned a corner,” there have been a lot of positive signs during their current three-game win streak. The Wildcats have ramped it up on defense allowing just 48 points per game over the last two, and Ashton Hagans is quickly emerging into the “next great John Calipari point guard.” It’s only mid-January and Kentucky is far from a complete team. But again, there are plenty of signs this group is headed in the right direction.
Still, we’ll find out just how far Kentucky has to go over the next eight days, with a brutal three-game stretch which includes three ranked teams. Kentucky will travel to Auburn this weekend, before facing Mississippi State and Kansas at home next week. There is no “magic number” on what their record needs to be over that stretch. But if they’re to be taken seriously as a team that can make a run to the Final Four, they probably need to win two out of three to feel good. If they win all three, it’s inarguable that Kentucky has arrived as a legit contender.
Ultimately though you can’t win all three unless you win the first one, which makes this weekend’s game at Auburn so crucial. To beat a Top 15 team on the road gives the Wildcats a resume boosting win they can carry all season. Add it in with wins that Kentucky already has at Louisville and against North Carolina on a neutral court and all of a sudden you’re talking about a nice little resume for the Wildcats.
So with that said, what will it take to beat the Tigers? Well, I’m glad you asked, as I decided to reach out to a coach who has faced Auburn this season to get a scouting report on them. Remember, I did this before the North Carolina game and, I hate to brag, but it seems pretty obvious that the Wildcats staff read my article. You know, since they dominated the Tar Heels from start to finish after all.
Can I go 2-for-2 and take Kentucky’s season to another level (Yes, I’m kidding)? We’ll find out, as here is what one anonymous coach who has faced Auburn this season said about the Tigers.
Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson will play a massive role on Saturday – but it will come on the defensive end
Hagans had a breakout game offensively in his return to Georgia Tuesday (where I’m not sure if you heard, but the home fans booed him) and Johnson is the team’s best long-term NBA prospect.
But while each has the ability to light up the opponent defensively, the key for Kentucky might be what Hagans and Johnson do on the other end of the court. Slowing down Auburn’s guards is key to success against the Tigers.
“What they really do, especially at home is they make so many transition three’s,” the coach said.
“They start hitting those transition threes and it ramps up their defensive energy and they just go on these runs, man. You’ll be in the game with them and then you’ll be down 20 because they went on a 12-0 run and made four threes. It’s amazing.”
While it’s impossible to know just how many of Auburn’s threes have come in transition, what is indisputable is that the Tigers are one of the best shooting teams in college basketball. Auburn is making just under 11 three-pointers per game, which is sixth most in the country and are doing it while shooting 36 percent as a team. Although that percentage isn’t through the roof, it’s pretty darn good when you realize just how many three’s they’ve actually attempted. Overall, five different players have hit at least 17 three’s this season for Auburn (in comparison, Kentucky has just two guys who have hit that mark, Johnson and Tyler Herro) with Bryce Brown and Jared Harper combining for 92.
For what Auburn does, the coach believes Harper is the best point guard in the country (“If I’m taking any point guard in the country, I’m taking him,” the coach said) and therefore it’s key that Hagans picks him up just as soon as he touches the ball.
Equally important is who picks up Brown, and where. That responsibility will likely fall on Johnson at least to start the game.
“To me, you’ve almost got to designate someone to find Bryce Brown in transition,” he said. “You’ve got to find Brown because if you watch the film, he’s so good at running and catching hit aheads in space. And his range is unlimited.”
Jared Harper from the LOGO pic.twitter.com/naB6MiNWqP
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 22, 2018
But it’s not just the guards who hit threes
While Brown and Harper key the offensive attack, what makes Auburn so deadly is that – depending on the lineup – just about anyone on the court can beat you with the deep ball.
The Tigers are the rare team that has big guys that can run the floor and hit three’s, meaning that picking up the big guys in transition isn’t just about the guards – but the post players as well.
“[Anfernee] McLemore can step out and hit threes,” the coach said. “Obviously [Chuma] Okeke can step out and hit threes. Horace Spencer isn’t a great shooter but he can step out and make some.”
The numbers back up the coach.
On the season, Okeke, a 6’8 forward has tallied 17 made three-pointers and McLemore – who is battling back from a season-ending injury from last year – has made seven. He made 18 last season while shooting 39 percent from behind the arc.
So Okeke and McLemore are the big guys who can really hurt Kentucky. Which is also why they better pray…
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 17th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
With less than two months left in the regular season, it’s time to start thinking about Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament resume.
Starting last year, the NCAA began publishing the “team sheets” the Selection Committee uses to pick and seed teams. Each team’s wins are sorted into four quadrants using their opponent’s NET rankings, which replaced the RPI this year:
- Quadrant 1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75
- Quadrant 2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135
- Quadrant 3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240
- Quadrant 4: Home 161-plus; Neutral 201-plus; Away 241-plus
Kentucky’s current NET ranking is No. 10. Here’s how their team sheet looks as of games through January 16:
Kentucky is only 2-3 in Quadrant 1 games so far, but has nine more left on the schedule, which is huge. It all starts Saturday vs. Auburn.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©January 17th, 2019 @ 8:00pm
Right when we thought things were going to slow down a bit on the recruiting circuit, we have an afternoon where three interesting developments surface concerning three separate Kentucky basketball recruits.
The trio of individuals? 2019 five-star forward prospects Jaden McDaniels, Keion Brooks, and Isaiah Stewart.
For two of the prospects, the information/update is positive for the Wildcats, especially for one with a final decision expected in the coming weeks. With the other, there’s not as much reason for optimism as of today.
Let’s take a look:
Rivals’ basketball recruiting analyst Corey Evans released his regular “Three-Point Play” segment earlier today, where he included an interesting bit of information on Kentucky basketball target Jaden McDaniels and his expected timeline for a decision.
Evans reports McDaniels will focus on finishing out his senior season before making a final decision between Kentucky, San Diego State, Texas, UCLA, and Washington.
Sources have told Rivals.com that the current plan is for McDaniels to finish out his high school season first before making any sort of decision. This would bring us to possibly mid-March before a commitment might be made.
And when that decision does come, Evans expects it to come down to the Wildcats and the Huskies for McDaniels’ services.
I believe that McDaniels will end up at Kentucky or Washington. The Wildcats had gained some talk of late but either way, don’t look for anything new to come out of the McDaniels’ camp for several more weeks.
Earlier in the week, Rivals recruiting guru Eric Bossi also released a positive update on the five-star forward out of Federal Way, WA.
“Most seem to think he’ll stay out West but I’ve been feeling Kentucky on this one if I had to pick,” he said.
On Pilgrim’s Insider Notes this past Monday, I told you guys about Kentucky’s intrigue with the idea of updating their schemes to fit an NBA style of play where all five players on the court can run the floor and hit shots from the perimeter. In fact, I’ve been told that after years of going away from the Dribble Drive offense, Calipari would like to implement it again next season with McDaniels being a key piece of the four-out, one-in style of play.
Kentucky feels they have a convincing pitch in place for the 6-foot-11 forward and have a great shot in this recruitment.
Watch him work:
On Sunday afternoon, 6-foot-7 forward Keion Brooks hosted Kentucky and Indiana on in-home visits, the two schools I said on Monday will be the final two schools in serious consideration when a decision is made in the coming weeks.
Though Indiana is the local school and the “hometown hero” pitch the Hoosiers are selling is working, I’m under the impression the Kentucky coaching staff is confident they have a legitimate shot no matter when the La Porte, IN product makes a final decision.
This afternoon on Instagram, Brooks posted something pretty interesting on his story that only adds to that optimism for the Wildcats.
Joined in a graphic with potential future teammates Tyrese Maxey, Dontaie Allen, and Kahlil Whitney, Brooks posted a photoshopped image of him suited up in a Kentucky uniform:
To add even more intrigue to the situation, Kentucky was the only school included on Brooks’ story. Hmm…
Like I said on Monday, I believe Indiana may have a slight lead over Kentucky right now, but it’s close. Really close. When I brushed off the idea of Brooks coming a while back, especially after Whitney committed, I was quickly told I needed to take a closer peek into the situation and realize just how much the versatile forward likes the Cats.
Even with the Hoosiers deemed the favorite, I’ve been told the UK coaching staff has a quiet confidence they can close the gap to make it a true 50/50 toss-up when an announcement comes.
Here are his most recent highlights:
As optimistic as things seem for McDaniels and Brooks, the same cannot be said for five-star power forward Isaiah Stewart.
Stewart, a La Lumiere (IN) product and teammate of Brooks, recently said he wasn’t ready to make a commitment just yet, but it’s right around the corner. And when that time does come, it doesn’t appear Kentucky will be the landing spot.
Evan Daniels of 247 Sports, one of the absolute best in the business when it comes to insider knowledge, logged a Crystal Ball pick for Washington this morning.
Adam Rowe, John Watson, and Chad Lykins, three Duke insiders, also made predictions for Washington within the span of just a few hours this afternoon.
247 Sports’ Brian Snow, who has a 93 percent all-time (96 percent in 2019) prediction grade, picked Washington back in October and hasn’t backed away from that since.
The Huskies have also received four of Stewart’s last analyst predictions on Rivals.com, including one from Eric Bossi.
On Kentucky’s end of things, it is my understanding the Wildcats are running fourth behind Washington, Duke, and Michigan State (in that order) for Stewart, and it would be a shock for the five-star big man out of La Porte, IN to end up in Lexington.
Teaming up with former Kentucky guard Quade Green next year in Washington, though? That’s looking like the likely scenario with a decision coming sooner rather than later.
If you’ve been following along with the notes over the past two Mondays, you’d know none of these developments are major surprises, but they’re certainly interesting nonetheless.
Brooks is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks, followed by Stewart in late January/early February, McDaniels sometime in late March/early April, and then five-star forward Matthew Hurt to close things out late in April.
Things might seem slow now, but chaos is right around the corner. Be ready, BBN.