What does it take for Auburn to beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena?
2. The most-iconic shot in Auburn basketball history.
On Jan. 15, 1983, Sonny Smith’s unranked Tigers, led by Person, Barkley and Darrell Lockhart, upset the sixth-ranked Wildcats 75-67 at Rupp Arena.
Five years later, on Jan. 9, 1988, Auburn did it again. Forward John Caylor buried a 3-point from the wing with 10 seconds to play and Rex Chapman’s long shot at the buzzer was off the mark and Auburn owned another upset of Kentucky at Rupp Arena. This one, a 53-52 win over No. 1 Kentucky.
Eighteen years later covering 15 more trips to Lexington have produced zero wins in Rupp Arena for the Tigers. Overall, Auburn is 2-26 at Rupp and 2-46 in Lexington against the Wildcats. Auburn plays at Kentucky on Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN.
SEC Country caught up with Caylor, who lives in Auburn and is a season-ticket holder, who shared his experience from that 1988 game. Here’s how Caylor tells the story:
The first thing I remember is how loud the student band was because they sit right behind the bench. Every time they played the fight song it came right through you, right through your chest.
It’s a very hard place to win, a hard place for most teams to even be in a ball game in Lexington. At the time we were going through some difficult times with one of our best players, Mike Jones, getting kicked off the team (he was academically ineligible). Because of that, a lot of us were thrown into playing when we really weren’t prepared to be playing.
The final play was set up for Chris Morris, our biggest star and top scorer. I was actually — Sonny Smith tells it a different way — but I know what he told me. He said to set the pick and get out of the way. ‘I don’t care if you have to roll into the stands, get out of the way.’ Of course, I was wide open because nobody was guarding me. Being in the right place at the right time. It was a great moment. But I was put in that position and most times I would not have been there.
Coach Smith always said that if you take a shot that’s out of the offense, you’re going to sit with him on the bench. The game is coached a lot different today. But Coach would have you sitting beside him in the blink of an eye. I was just trying to do what I was told and stay out of the way.
To be honest, when I go back and watch the video of the shot, it looks like we were playing hot potato. We ran the play to get the shot for Chris and they guarded him as well as you can guard it, in my mind. I remember sitting on the wing and I’d set the screen and rolled into the stands and your mental clock is ticking down — you’re thinking about how many seconds we had when we started the play and it’s getting closer. I’m looking and Morris, Derrick Dennison and Terrance Howard throwing the ball back and forth. It’s like: What are we going to do now?
I was over there like a spectator in the stands thinking that somebody has to shoot it. They threw it to me — it’s not like I haven’t hit a shot before — and it’s one of those things you don’t even think about. Time is running out, you’re either the goat or the mule. I really didn’t have a whole lot to lose.
I am surprised we haven’t beaten them there since. That’s not uncommon. A lot of people don’t beat Kentucky in Lexington. I am surprised it’s been this many years. It’s been 30 years since I was in college and that it (the shot) still echoes … It’s one of those things that never wants to die — from the Auburn basketball Twitter page or someone calls and asks about the shot or they have a drawing on the radio. I’m proud of that. By no means did I do it by myself. I was a very small part of the scoring that day.
Sonny Smith keeps trying to tell me when we have lettermen’s events and get-togethers that he drew up that play for me. I tell him ‘you told me to go sit in the stands and eat some popcorn.’ You can see him on the sidelines when they throw it to me and he was hollering ‘no, no, no’ and when the shot went in he was hollering ‘yes, yes, yes.’ It’s a big running joke with us these days.