At 7 p.m. on Monday night inside Memorial Colisuem, the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats (15-3) will host the Auburn Tigers (7-10) as they honor the life of Pat Summit, the former Tennessee coaching legend who passed away in 2016 due to Alzheimer’s.
‘We Back Pat’ is an annual tradition that the SEC introduced following Summit’s death. It’s a week-long event where teams will wear shirts and warmups with Summit’s name to honor one of the game’s coaching icons. The Kentucky coaching staff has a considerable history with Summit, spending several years in the past working alongside her as members/players of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Dusting off the kicks for tomorrow.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) January 26, 2020
Head coach Matthew Mitchell and associate head coach Kyra Elzy were assistant coaches under Summit while assistant coach Niya Butts won two National Championships playing under Summit in the late ’90s. This day means more to the Kentucky coaching staff that it does to most.
Hopefully, it’ll lead to a win for the ‘Cats, who haven’t played in eight days since a bad loss to the LSU Tigers last Sunday.
Kentucky needed that break, though. They need KeKe McKinney to come back healthy after sitting out a few games in a row with a severe migraine. It provides an excellent opportunity for the team to look at what has been working and what hasn’t been through six conference games. So let’s take a quick look at Auburn and what to expect when they face the ‘Cats later on Monday.
Auburn comes into the game as one of the worst teams in the SEC. Their 1-5 conference record is only slightly better than the winless Ole Miss Rebels (0-6). The Tigers might be the worst defensive team out of the SEC. The Tigers give up more points and allow opponents to shoot a higher percentage from the floor than roughly 90 percent of the country.
Coming off its first SEC win of the season in a 59-43 drumming of Ole Miss, Auburn will be looking to continue the trend against a nationally ranked opponent.
The Tigers are led by head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, who is in her eighth season at the helm for Auburn. She played four years at Penn State and has been coaching ever since. This season marks her 16th season as a head coach and 28th in the coaching ranks. Williams-Flournoy has posted a 131-111 record at Auburn that includes three trips to the NCAA Tournament and two to the WNIT. Auburn finished last season with a 22-10 record and a first-round exit in the NCAA tourney.
Auburn is the most inexperienced team in the entire country, rostering just two upperclassmen, four freshmen, and seven sophomores. Seven different starting lineups have been used. Eight out off 11 rotation players has found themselves as starters at some point this season. There are six newcomers on the team. Auburn is undergoing an extreme player turnover, but they still have a star player in the post.
Unique Thompson is one of the top players in the SEC as a junior. The 6-foot-3 center leads the Tigers in scoring (16.3 points), rebounds (12.1 rebounds), and field goal percentage (56.7 percent). She’s already posted 16 double-doubles of out 17 possible games. She’s the SEC’s overall rebounding leader while ranking fifth in scoring. Thompson was tabbed as a Preseason All-SEC Second Team performer and is playing like a future first-teamer. She’s also hauled in double-digit rebounds in every game this season and has won SEC Player of the Week twice already. If McKinney does play, she’s going to have her hands full. If she doesn’t then Tatyana Wyatt will.
Auburn’s next most dangerous option is Daisa Alexander, a 5-foot-8 senior guard. Averaging the second-most points on the team at 13.7 per outing, Alexander can do it all for Auburn. She has the ability to knock down the outside shot, is a solid rebounder for her size, and leads her team in steals. Like Thompson, she was also named to the Preseason All-SEC Second Team.
The third and final Tiger to average double-digits in scoring is 5-foot-7 sophomore Brooke Moore. Averaging just under 11 points per game, Moore has attempted more triples than any of her teammates. She hasn’t knocked them down at a consistent rate so far (just 23-88 on the year) but has topped at least 10 points in 10 games already this season.
After the trio of Thompson, Alexander, and Moore, there is a dip in production.
Auburn will likely start two sophomores alongside those three to complete the starting lineup; 5-foot-9 guard Robyn Benton and 6-foot-2 forward Erin Howard.
Benton was named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2019 but missed the first nine games of this season due to an injury. Since her return, she’s averaging 7.5 points and 2.6 rebounds through eight games. Benton has poured in a combined 29 points over the Tigers’ last two games against Georgia and Ole Miss.
Howard is the team’s leader in blocks who also averages 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. She’s made 18 triples on the year and has the ability to stretch the floor.
Making up the rest of the rotation for Auburn are three ladies; 5-foot-8 freshman Lauren Hansen, 5-foot-9 freshman Annie Hughes, and 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore Kiyae’ White.
The two freshmen, Hansen and Hughes, play different styles in the backcourt. Hansen is the gunner, who has already fired up 131 shots this season, 84 of them coming from beyond the arc. She averages 7.5 points per game while knocking down 31 percent of her outside looks. She also turns the ball over more often than any of her teammates (55 on the season). Hughes, on the other hand, has seen her minutes dip significantly over the last two games.
White is the team’s second-leading rebounder as an off-the-bench post presence. She corrals 5.2 boards per game while adding 4.4 points on exactly 50 percent shooting from the field.
This will be the 50th meeting between these two schools, with Auburn leading the overall series 26-23. However, Kentucky has won 11 of the previous 12 meetings and four in a row. Matthew Mitchell is 13-3 all-time against Auburn.
The keys to victory for Kentucky aren’t any different from what they have been all season. If the ‘Cats are knocking down their threes, they are borderline impossible to beat. The Tigers do have a size advantage, but nothing compared to what Kentucky has faced against teams such as Tennessee or South Carolina. Rebounding is the one area Auburn will have an edge, but it stops there. Kentucky is a vastly superior scoring team and will pressure a Tigers team that tends to turn the ball over.
If Thompson can be held in check and Rhyne Howard has another typical Rhyne Howard game, Kentucky should roll to an easy win. But if the outside shots aren’t falling early similar to the most recent loss against LSU, it could be another long night for the ‘Cats.
Make sure to tune it at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.