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Top takeaways from Kentucky’s 75-66 road loss at Auburn

© John Reed | USATSI

© John Reed | USATSI

After rattling off four consecutive victories – two being difficult tests on the road – the Kentucky Wildcats were unable to extend their winning streak to five, falling to the Auburn Tigers by a final score of 75-66.

But how did it all unfold?

Here are KSR’s top takeaways from Kentucky’s difficult road loss:

Given the environment, Kentucky had an uphill climb from the start

Year after year, Auburn Arena – one of the most hostile and difficult environments in the SEC – presents a major challenge for opposing teams. Factor in Kentucky coming to town, along with ESPN College GameDay following suit, the crowd was always going to play a factor in tonight’s matchup.

With over an hour until tip-off, the entire student section was filled from top to bottom, and it didn’t take long after for the general public to fill in the rest of the 9,121-seat venue.

From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the fans were deafening, rallying the Tigers back from deficits and building momentum with leads. The Wildcats had taken down Arkansas and Texas Tech in their first two matchups of this four-game stretch of Saturday road games, but they simply could not come out on top in attempt No. 3.

Kentucky threw the first punch

As crazy as the atmosphere was leading up to the game and as the highly-anticipated matchup unfolded, the Wildcats actually found a way to get things rolling right from the opening tip. Leading at one point 9-2, you could hear a pin drop in the sold-out Auburn Arena just two minutes into the game.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, that silence was short-lived.

… but Auburn responded

Immediately after Kentucky’s hot start to open the game, Auburn stormed back on a 12-1 run of their own to take a 14-10 lead just eight minutes into the game.

From there, we saw a game of runs, with Kentucky taking over to lead by as many as seven in the first half, followed by another Auburn lead just seconds before halftime.

After the break, neither team led by more than four points for the first 11 minutes and five for the first 17:24.

In a back-and-forth battle, it was the Tigers who found a way to fight through and come out with the victory.

Ashton Hagans had a repeat performance of the Elite Eight

While you can point out a few Wildcats who found a way to carve out relatively impressive performances against the Tigers, one who didn’t fit in that category was sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans.

In fact, Hagans’ performance was – unfortunately – eerily reminiscent of his outing against Auburn in the Elite Eight last March.

Tonight, the Cartersville, GA native finished with just five points on 2-5 shooting to go with three assists, zero rebounds, six turnovers, and five fouls in 21 minutes.

In the NCAA Tournament this past year, the sophomore guard finished with ten points (4-8 shooting), five rebounds, three assists, and a whopping seven turnovers in 38 minutes.

Bruce Pearl said after the game that he made it a point of emphasis to slow down both Hagans and essentially dared the other Wildcats to beat him, and unfortunately for Kentucky, it was a great decision.

In his time on the floor, Hagans committed costly turnovers and fouls at crucial, momentum-changing moments of the game. He struggled finding open teammates, forced bad passes, and was reckless at times driving into traffic. After six combined turnovers and fouls in the first half, Hagans was borderline unplayable at times, and it was reflected in the form of a season-low 21 total minutes.

Hagans has been one of Kentucky’s best players all season long, but tonight, he just didn’t bring it.

Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey were there to (slightly) make up for it

Though Hagans put forth one of the worst performances of his career, guards Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey did their best to make up for it, combining for 45 total points, nine rebounds, four assists, and two turnovers.

Time and time again, both Quickley and Maxey put the team on their backs and made clutch shots across the floor and at the free throw line. Combining for 19-22 from the charity stripe, the dynamic guard duo relentlessly attacked the basket, drew key fouls, and converted to keep the Wildcats in contention. When he wasn’t knocking down key free throws, Quickley also made several clutch baskets to close out the second half and nearly single-handedly willed the team to victory.

With a few key defensive stops and/or the absence of whistles on the other end of the floor (we’ll touch on that here in a bit), we could be talking about an entirely different outcome.

Have a game, EJ Montgomery

Is it possible for a player with just two points to be one of the most valuable players on the floor? EJ Montgomery certainly made an argument for it.

Finishing with two points (1-1 shooting), four rebounds, three blocks, and an assist in just 17 minutes of action, the sophomore forward quietly put together a strong performance on both ends of the floor, a positive sign of things to come.

On offense, Montgomery moved the ball, created opportunities for his teammates, and converted on his lone shot attempt at the top of the key. Defensively, the 6-foot-11 forward was active and aggressive for the majority of his time on the floor, contesting numerous shots in the paint even outside the three blocks he picked up.

John Calipari called on Montgomery to put forth long stretches of consistency rather than just a few minutes at a time, and he did that for the Cats this evening. It came in a losing effort, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on as we hit the home stretch of the season.

Auburn shot 44 free throws, took 51 total shots

Ah, the most obnoxious stat of the night: the disparity between teams at the free throw line.

On the evening, Auburn was called for just 20 fouls compared to 28 for Kentucky, but even that seems tolerable on the surface level. What really stands out on the box score, however, is the fact that the Tigers took a whopping 44 free throws in the game compared to 24 for the Wildcats.

To make matters worse, Auburn shot 16 total free throws – 13 makes – in the final six minutes of the game compared to just four – all makes by Maxey – for Kentucky. The five point lead the Wildcats maintained with less than nine minutes to go flipped to as many as nine – the final deficit – in the game’s closing minutes. Eight of Auburn’s final twelve, including four of the final six, possessions resulted in opportunities at the line.

No matter the reasoning – John Calipari chalked it up to nothing more than physical play by the Tigers down the stretch – it’s pretty darn tough to win on the road taking 20 fewer free throws than the opposition.

Kentucky was outrebounded 42-28

Want to know another way to lose games? Get outrebounded by 14 on the glass overall and 11 on offense.

On the evening, Kentucky finished with just 28 rebounds as a team, including an abysmal 14 boards across the entire frontcourt. Individually, Nate Sestina and Keion Brooks Jr. combined for just three rebounds in 40 total minutes of action.

Auburn, however, finished with 42 total rebounds, including 17 alone on the offensive glass, compared to just six offensive rebounds for Kentucky.

Again, tough to win on the road – especially at Auburn – like that.

Time to go back to the drawing board and get ready for Mississippi State on Tuesday evening.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

39 Comments for Top takeaways from Kentucky’s 75-66 road loss at Auburn

  1. Wyman70
    11:27 pm February 1, 2020 Permalink

    Well, Cal played quite a bit of zone in this game and it seemed to be effective. A good idea when the team is in foul trouble. Maybe he will use that zone more now that he knows that it works. It’s another tool in the bag on defense that any team needs to have. Go Cats…!!!

  2. makeitstop
    11:46 pm February 1, 2020 Permalink

    It’s harder to rebound out of a zone, especially if u don’t really practice it. The fouls certainly had an impact on personnel and strategy but in the end they didn’t cause 7 steals to zero, or justify 17 offense rebounds to 4, and it didn’t force our PG into 6 TO’s. Forget it. Move on. But if ur looking for signs we can run off 6 straight wins against quad 1 competition…. this doesn’t help.

    • CatsfaninFL
      7:42 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Please show me the team that can run of 6 straight in the tourney right now… I beg you. There is only one team I would remotely consider putting money on and that is Baylor. This team is not good when they don’t play together, but there isnt a single team that scares me when they do. It’s anyone’s year this year.

    • makeitstop
      10:11 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Catsfan, several teams hv won 6 straight against good and decent Q1/Q2 teams including Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga, FSU, UL – it’s hard to say about teams like SDSU or Dayton but they’re ripping off wins and LSU is undefeated in conference play. There are clearly better teams, that regularly play better and play together as u say. We haven’t won more than 4 straight games since the season really began in December when the patsy schedule yielded to real teams apart from the tip off classic. Problem is we are very good not great when we play our best and very bad, losing tQ4 or Q3 games when we either Richards or Hagans or Maxey is off. We have no margin for error. So yea, it’s not hopeless but it’s not easy to see how any of that changes, without major development in a hurry from someone and the most likely guy w the highest ceiling quit so that margin shrank more. I’m not giving up but I’m getting skeptical for empirical reasons not emotional.

  3. kjd
    11:52 pm February 1, 2020 Permalink

    Got beat. Remainder of schedule is preparation for SEC tourney.

  4. KYCat4EVER
    12:22 am February 2, 2020 Permalink



    Same as always…

    1. NO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP banner to hang up in RUPP again this year…

    2. Coach PROCESS hails more NBA drafts picks as the best day in U.K. sports history.

    3. The small Contingency of UK fans who can’t see through the smoke and mirrors fall for the “look who’s coming to play at UK next year” racket!

    4. Rinse… Repeat

    • The Big Lebowski
      3:30 am February 2, 2020 Permalink


    • CatsfaninFL
      7:30 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Who do you think would do a better job, loser? Go away pathetic troll.

    • makeitstop
      10:19 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Catsfan is correct – hv u watched Penny coach his all star freshman? Kind of hard. How did coach K do w the best class in history? Same as we did. And he’s the winningest coach in the game. Cal gets out coached some games and so does Saban and so does Belichick. But game in, game out, season in, season out, there’s no one who could run this program as well. The numbers speak for themselves. We knew we were guard heavy and front court light. We thought EJ would make a PJ or WCS like improvement, and SO far he hasn’t. We thought Whitney would be a lottery pick bc they said so…. he wasn’t. Given this hand to play we are right where we should be just not where we’d like to be.

  5. Righteous1
    1:01 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Outstanding analogy KYCat4Ever! In Cal We Trust, It’s NBA or Bust! People fail to see that this coach is paid like Nick Saban, but Saban has 5 titles at Alabama and no Lifetime Contract, and Cal has 1 title and no Final 4 appearances for what will soon be 5 consecutive years! UNBELIEVABLE!

  6. Rob
    2:06 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Before the season started there was one thing that concerned me about this years team. I didn’t think this team had that “alpha male” player like we’ve had in previous years. The season isn’t over, but I just don’t think any of these guys are mentally or physically ready to become that player. JMO

  7. The Big Lebowski
    3:31 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

    Barring some major change in philosophy and recruiting, Cal will not take Kentucky back to the Final Four.

    There’s always next year will be the mantra from here on out.

  8. CatsfaninFL
    7:32 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Such sad people after a loss. Must be really depressing to get your jollies off hopping on when we lose. Your absence after wins is all we need to know about what kind of “fan” you all are. Hopelessly depressed you don’t have a chance to get online and troll.

    • classof68
      10:17 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Sorry Catsfanin FL. The truth hurts, but it’s still the truth. Cal ball has become more and more like Tubby ball. Maybe you like that?

    • CatsfaninFL
      11:57 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      It’s not the truth because you said it lol. I’m right. What I say is the truth, not you! Hahah. See how that works. You sound so ignorant. Which team and or Coach would you rather have oh wise one? The fact is we have had the most success since Cal has been here. May have a couple schools with 1 more title, but we have had more final 4s and less valleys than those schools and/or coaches. It sucks not winning every year, but stop sounding like such an entitled idiot. We are playing our best ball by March every year because Cal is one heck of a coach. In every year but 2(?), we have either made the FF or had a chance to.

    • classof68
      2:45 pm February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Well I guess CafaninFL never heard the old expression that the truth hurts sometime. He must be like 10 yrs. old. His statements like: every year but 2 we’ve reached the FF or had a chance to, AND we are playing our best ball by March every year are ludicrous. I won’t call him an idiot because – hey he’s 10 yrs.old. I think we do agree Cal is a good coach. But I also feel his recruiting has gone downhill and that’s why we can’t get back to the FF for at least 6 yrs. Yep, I’m including this year because this team isn’t capable of winning 6 games in a row against good competition.

  9. UKfanman01
    8:00 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Jack Pilgrim picked up a foul for this article

  10. Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert
    8:16 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Cal should bench Ashton after he flexes after a made layup. Especially when he is playing like trash and the team is losing. But instead he just lets Ashton keep embarrassing himself.

    • Ez21
      8:24 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Shut up man. Let the kid play with emotion. They started playing this game because it was fun after all. What do you want a bunch of emotionless robots?

  11. yoshukai
    8:32 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Agree with most of it but you’re crazy as hell if you think EJ had a good game . Plus , Due to his defense Sestina can’t play many minutes but when he plays he’s got to knock down open looks .

    • Matt10
      9:01 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      That was my thought. Not sure what universe 2 points, one assist and 4 rebounds from your starting four makes for a good game. I call that hiding in a game. Now if he’d have had 10 boards to go with his ONE shot, maybe I’d agree.
      I don’t see this as a bad loss. A top 20 Auburn was favored at home in a wild environment. Any team would have struggled. We had a chance to win even with Ashton playing a terrible 17 minutes and no real presence from Nick or EJ. We beat them next time, write it down.

  12. cutthroattrout
    8:58 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    We need a new coach is my takeaway

  13. just a guy
    9:57 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Real chance top 6 guys from this team go to NBA or graduate or transfer, let that sink in for a second. First, there are no NBA players on this team, but second after we fall flat in sweet 16 next years team will be all freshman, and Brooks, and y’all are excited

  14. just a guy
    9:58 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    I’d take 10 Mclemore’s over one Whitney

  15. just a guy
    9:58 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    I’d even take 1 mclemore over 10 Whitney’s

  16. dave1964
    9:59 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Hagans is very overrated he is a good guard but clearly not one of the top 5 in the country. The reason this team was beat was because we have no fighters, once you push EJ and Richards around they both go into a shell. Rebounding is about toughness and that is one this team has very little of, Maxie is the only one on this team that can come close to having the fight and heart that is team is in high need of.

    • makeitstop
      11:36 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t think he’s overrated, I think he’s inconsistent. When he’s good, which is fairly often, as guys like Bilas or Vitale hv said, he’s as good as anyone. But his jump shot, while better, isn’t consistent and that leads teams to challenge him to shoot, picking him up in the lane and punching him to where he faces 2 bad choices: crazy shot (like last year) or bad pass (like last night). The lack of a really good interior presence means he can’t interior pass to a PJ or Reid for a score. If he can continue to improve shot selection and shooting form, he’ll have a little more room to distribute and maybe it’s Brooks who becomes his interior passing target for a tough bucket. Nick fields the lobs but the interior passes he still struggles with: better, but not clean and automatic. Brooks may be the key.

  17. just a guy
    10:01 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    The crowd was crazy. 9000 and players couldn’t hear ref blow whistle. At Rupp you can hear Bilas eating his ice cream. They had half stadium dancing and swaying together. Rupp couldn’t get a wave to make it two times around the building.

  18. ryan1723
    10:38 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Love it. Write an article complaining about fouls while using a picture that shows…. a foul.

    • Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert
      11:41 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      Haha, good point. Maxey could have been called for 2 fouls on that play.

  19. cmgormanjr1
    10:58 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Well said.

  20. makeitstop
    11:26 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Btw if ur a little blue today (pun intended) the powder blue rivals at UNCheat hv a losing record and hv lost 10 of the last 14. Now THAT is a down year. Meanwhile we whine we may lose the first weekend or in the sweet 16. Perspective please…

  21. Righteous1
    11:46 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Just A Guy with the point that you can hear Bilas eat ice cream in Rupp! Nice one!!

    Since 1952 to the present day, 5 coaches have won titles:
    1. Rupp. 1958
    2. Hall. 1978
    3. Pitino. 1996
    4. Smith. 1998
    5. Calipari. 2012

    So 2 takeaways: 1. In 68 years what would lead you to believe that Calipari will win a 2nd title.
    2. Why would you pay Calipari 10 million per year with a lifetime contract like he is Nick Saban when he has won only 1 title in 10 yrs and no Final Four appearances in 4 straight years? I don’t get it.
    In Cal We Trust, It’s NBA or Bust.

    • CatsfaninFL
      11:59 am February 2, 2020 Permalink

      By your logic we should fire every coach after they win their first title… think you’re missing “self” in your name.

  22. The Professor
    2:11 pm February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Seemingly, our opponents have been in the bonus before the first time out lately. We are getting very little production from the bench so we struggle when starters come out. We either have to learn to play without fouling or the 3 guys coming in have to raise their level of play for us to make a deep run.

  23. jakew60
    2:38 pm February 2, 2020 Permalink

    Gonzaga hasn’t played six good teams all year, lol either has San Diego state

  24. Jester
    6:48 pm February 2, 2020 Permalink

    There is no one on this site that is more true blue than me, especially those who constantly make excuses and are dishonest about the team. The fact if the matter is that Cal is probably a top 5 recruiter but there are lots of guys out there who can out-coach him. He isn’t a game coach and Bruce Pearl, as much as I can’t stand him, is. Cal got out-coached.
    I hope eventually we can luck our way back into a championship with him as coach like we did 8 years ago. Because we sure won’t win it with his inability to coach.