LEXINGTON, Ky. – Remember when Bruce Pearl coming to town for a showdown with Kentucky basketball was a big deal? It looked like that might finally be the case again when Auburn started this season, his third with the Tigers, by beating Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Connecticut on the way to a 10-2 nonconference record and a little momentum.
Then Pearl and Co. lost their first three SEC games and narrowly escaped losing Tuesday night to a miserable Missouri team. This rebuild is even tougher than expected for a guy who made the NCAA Tournament all six years he was at Tennessee – including three Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight.
Now he’s 37-45 in two and a half seasons at Auburn, but there are signs of progress. There’s certainly more talent in the program, including 5-star freshman starters Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley. But these Tigers are young, likely the only opponent all season that will match Kentucky by starting four freshmen on Saturday.
The two guys who combined for 47 points in Auburn’s stunning 75-70 upset of the Wildcats last season – Kareem Canty and Tyler Harris – are gone now. Before that road loss, Kentucky had won 18 straight and 32 of 33 in the series. The Cats own an absurd 91-18 record all-time.
Kentucky basketball vs. Auburn game time, details
Date: Saturday, Jan. 14
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington, Ky.
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 22 ½
What TV channel is Kentucky basketball vs. Auburn on?
The game will be broadcast on ESPN (DirecTV channel 206, DISH channel 140, Time Warner channel 27/753 HD).
How can I watch Kentucky basketball vs. Auburn online?
Who is calling the Kentucky basketball game vs. Auburn?
Play-by-play by Tom Hart, analysis by Kara Lawson, sideline reporting by Kaylee Hartung.
How can I listen to Kentucky basketball vs. Auburn?
Play-by-play by Tom Leach, analysis by Mike Pratt on Sirius 83, XM 190 and AM-630 (in Lexington).
No. 6 Kentucky (14-2, 4-0 SEC)
G-De’Aaron Fox (6-3, Fr.): 16.7 ppg, 6.4 apg, 5.1 rpg
G-Malik Monk (6-3, Fr.): 21.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.0 apg
G-Isaiah Briscoe (6-3, So.): 15.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.2 apg
F-Wenyen Gabriel (6-9, Fr.): 5.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.0 bpg
F-Bam Adebayo (6-10, Fr.): 13.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg
TOP RESERVES – F Derek Willis, 6-9, Sr., 6.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.0 bpg; C Isaac Humphries, 7-0, So., 3.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg; G Mychal Mulder, 6-4, Sr., 6.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg; G Dominique Hawkins, 6-0, Sr., 2.8 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.5 rpg.
Auburn (11-5, 1-3 SEC)
G-Jared Harper (5-10, Fr.): 13.5 ppg, 3.1 apg, 2.4 rpg
G-Mustapha Heron (6-5, Fr.): 16.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.3 apg
G-TJ Lang (6-7, Jr.): 4.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.6 apg
F-Anfernee McLemore (6-7, Fr.): 3.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.8 bpg
C-Austin Wiley (6-11, Fr.): 7.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.8 bpg
TOP RESERVES – G T.J. Dunans, 6-5, Sr., 7.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg; G Bryce Brown, 6-3, So., 6.2 ppg, 1.3 apg; F Horace Spencer, 6-8, So., 5.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg; G Ronnie Johnson, 6-0, Sr., 5.8 ppg, 1.9 apg.
* Bam becoming a bad man: One of the more impressive things about Adebayo, Kentucky’s hulking freshman forward, is his ability to switch on to guards and deftly defend them off screens. “He’s really good. He bounces, he stays in his stance. He can guard every position,” Calipari said. “He’s getting fouled like crazy when he catches the ball … but he’s keeping his cool. He never changes anything. By the end of the year, he’ll be that guy. That’s my prediction. I asked the guys yesterday in a group, because I brought him up a couple times, I said, ‘Look, I’m not trying to throw him in your face, but let me ask you a question: Who’s the hardest worker we got in the gym?’ And as a group, they all pointed to Bam. I said, ‘There you go. My point is made.’ That’s why he’s just taking strides that are crazy.”
* Danjel Purifoy likely out: The 6-foot-7 Auburn freshman Purifoy is averaging 13.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists, but he didn’t make Tuesday’s trip to Missouri and is unlikely to play against Kentucky due to a left ankle injury. It’s a significant blow. “Danjel is an integral part of our scheme because he is such a unique pick-and-pock four man,” Pearl said. “Because he can do things inside and out, offensively and defensively, he’s a huge part of what we do.”
* More talent at Auburn: Five of the Tigers’ major contributors are former 4- or 5-star recruits, including four top-100 guys, the best of whom are 5-stars Heron and Wiley. Pearl also has a pair of top-50 recruits coming in the Class of 2017. The question is when that influx of talent will translate to an NCAA Tournament breakthrough. In the last 14 years, Auburn has had 10 losing seasons and zero invitations to the big dance.