Kentucky’s 2019 season ended at the hands of Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers in the Elite Eight. Winners of the two regular season matchups, Kentucky was outscored 17-11 in the overtime period to fall 77-71 in Kansas City.
For many Kentucky fans, nothing can heal the wounds from the loss better than spoiling Auburn’s first appearance on College GameDay. For the players, revenge is not a priority.
“I wouldn’t say payback. More of just looking forward to a good game,” said Immanuel Quickley. “Auburn’s a really good team. They’re like 18-2, or something like that. They’ve won a lot of games so far, so we’ve just got to be really locked in and hopefully get a win.”
In that game Quickley scored three points in 19 minutes off the bench. Unlike many other John Calipari-coached teams, there are multiple returning players who have an opportunity to right a previous wrong.
“Ashton’s gotten a lot better. He’s improved his offense. Everybody already knows about his defense. For myself, I feel like I’ve grown in a lot of areas as a leader, helping this team try to get wins. E.J. has gotten better. Nick’s gotten better, he’s blocking shots. E.J.’s playing with a lot of confidence now.” Quickley added: “Individually I think we’ve gotten a lot better.”
Montgomery was scoreless in eight minutes of action in the Elite Eight. Hagans scored ten points but committed seven turnovers, including a few in crucial moments down the stretch. Richards played in only 44 seconds of the game. Quickley may have slightly undersold the significance of Richards’ improvement since the last time the two teams met. Tomorrow he’ll be tasked to slow down Austin Wiley, a 6’11” post who’s averaging a rebound shy of a double-double.
“He’s really good,” said Calipari. “Physical play, being able to score around the basket. He runs and plays hard. Great, great kid. I had him on the USA [Basketball] team, love him to death. He’s a beautiful person aside from being a heck of a basketball player.”
Wiley is one of the few familiar faces on this Auburn team from last season. Even though they lost their stars — Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke — they’re still playing intense Bruce Pearl basketball.
“Different players but they play the same. They play hard. Bruce has them doing what they do,” said Calipari. “They’re tough on baseline, out of bounds, they’re tough letting you get it in, they’re tough on the sideline out. They run their little actions into [isolations] and different ways of trying to get easy baskets and they’re good. They’re a top 20 team for a reason and they won their first 18, 19 games for a reason, because they’re good.”