After trailing by as many as 11, the Auburn Tigers fought their way back into the game against Kentucky. A rebound and a resulting basket by PJ Washington with :56 remaining pushed the Cats back ahead 60-58, but Auburn’s Jared Harper tied it up again with :37 left in regulation. Neither team was able to connect on their final possession, and the Cats further collapsed in overtime.
The Tigers came out hot in OT, scoring the first four points of the extra period. They never trailed again, coming away with a 77-71 victory to earn a spot in the program’s first Final Four.
There are so many ways Kentucky could have won Sunday’s ball game. What if they had made a few more free throws? What if Tyler Herro connected on a few more possessions? What if they threw it inside a little bit more? What if Calipari took Ashton Hagans out of the game? The possibilities are endless, and John Calipari says he’s sure he’ll think of a few more now that it’s too late.
“I tried just about everything, but I’ll probably find four, five things I should have done or tried,” Calipari said after the loss. “Right now, couldn’t tell you what those are, but I probably will spend some time that way with myself.”
From a statistical standpoint, today’s loss is still tough to swallow. Kentucky out-shot Auburn 44% to 40%, out-rebounded them 41-37, scored more second-chance points (10-9) and more bench points (31-18) and had more assists (14-8), while holding Auburn to 30% from deep (7-23). But Auburn got it done when it counted, and silly mistakes stacked up against the Wildcats.
“They shot more free throws, and it’s not because of officiating. First game we played in a long time that someone shot more free throws than us because of how we play. We want you to grab us – that’s how we play… [And] we had a few too many turnovers at inopportune times. That changed the game.”
Not only did Auburn get to the charity stripe more frequently than Kentucky, but they were also far more efficient. UK finished the game 12-21 from the line (2-4 in overtime) for 57.1%. The Tigers hit 18-24 (7-9 in overtime) for 75%. And as for turnovers, Calipari is right. The Cats turned the ball over 14 times, compared to Auburn’s nine miscues.
Calipari may have tried just about everything, but small mistakes across the board proved to be too much for this Kentucky team.