Shanna Lockwood/AU Athletics
“We let one slip away on the road.” That’s one thing John Calipari was right about on Saturday.
Days after letting Alabama drain 14 three-pointers, it effectively took away the shot from the SEC’s second-best three-point shooting team, yet it still wasn’t enough to leave Auburn Arena with a win. The Wildcats have now lost at Auburn for the fourth time in five years after the 66-59 loss dropped UK to 4-8. There hasn’t been a Kentucky team with a worse record through 12 games since Adolph Rupp became the Cats’ head coach.
The loss at Auburn is more infuriating than the previous seven for a few reasons and John Calipari only made it worse in his postgame press conference. Before we get to that, here’s how it all unfolded.
Hideous First Half
“Ugly” can’t quite accurately summarize the first half. The score was 2-2 at the first media timeout. Kentucky missed its first six shots. Auburn started 1-of-15 from the floor. Both teams weren’t missing a bunch of contested shots; neither could make a layup. Thankfully, Dontaie Allen and Jacob Toppin entered into the lineup and gave UK something offensively, taking a 9-2 advantage at the 11-minute mark. It all started with an emphatic finish at the rim by Allen.
Goodness gracious, @dontaieallen11.
After the slow start, that’s how you get yout team going.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 16, 2021
Kentucky had a chance to run away with the game early on, but failed to find a rhythm offensively. At least they found out who could provide points, even if it wasn’t enough to earn second half minutes.
Where are Allen and Toppin?
It’s the question the BBN was asking when neither player, who each led the Cats in scoring with eight first half points, was on the hardwood at the start of the second half. It took more than four minutes for Toppin to get into the game and more than six for Allen to receive some playing time. Why weren’t they playing?
“I want to win every game I coach, but the other side of it is, I’m not trying to take anybody’s heart away,” Calipari said, “so you can sub them when three, four minutes and go.”
They only got a few minutes at a time. Allen came in cold for the final minute of the game, finishing with eight second half minutes as the only player with a positive +/- over the final 20 minutes.
BJ Boston: Still not good
At the beginning of the season, the BBN’s fascination with Dontaie Allen appeared to derive from his status as a home state hero. Even though the head coach may feel that’s still the case, now fans want him to play because he’s one of the few players that can actually make shots. The frustration is amplified when BJ Boston is the reason Allen is on the sideline.
Boston scored five points, making just 2-of-9 field goals in 27 minutes of action. It’s not that he is just not helping — Boston is hurting the team when he’s on the floor. He committed five turnovers, two of which were in the most important stretch of the game. It’s one thing to give a player a long leash. All that extra slack on Boston’s leash is choking the rest of the team.
The Turning Point
Despite the poor play from the Wildcats, they actually led by one with ten minutes to play and appeared to be scrapping their way to victory. Then officials fell for the floppingest flop since Chris Jones set the standard for awful flops in 2015.
That’s a heck of a sell ?? lol pic.twitter.com/2Aos3Iw5Nn
— KY Insider (@KyInsider) January 16, 2021
It’s safe to say that Mintz was not happy about the call, sharing this to his Instagram story after the game.
The play was reviewed for a flagrant foul. Unlike college football’s targeting, officials cannot waive off an ill-advised foul. Sharife Cooper’s acting gave Auburn the ball and started a 16-5 run over the next five minutes that was fueled by transition points off a few Boston turnovers. Despite a late push, this run proved to change the game.
One Final, Impressive Push
Even though Boston will draw the ire from most fans, Olivier Sarr was a significant part of the problem too. Sarr was -15, the worst on the team, and uninspiring in the post as the Tigers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. Once Boston and Sarr were pulled, Kentucky made a push that was almost enough to win.
Trailing by ten points with five minutes to play, the Wildcats turned defense into offense. A couple of blocks led to transition layups for Mintz and Askew to cut into the deficit. With a minute to play, Toppin but a BODY on an Auburn defender. Unfortunately, the nastiest Wildcat dunk of the season was not called an And One, but it still made it a two-point game.
Despite giving up a layup to Cooper on the ensuing possession, Kentucky had one more chance. Askew made his first free throw, then missed the second. The rebound was corralled by Keion Brooks. Instead of calling a foul on either of the two Auburn defenders that swarmed the UK sophomore, officials called a jump ball. Possession went to Auburn, the Tigers made their free throws and ended the game.
A Harsh Reality
Kentucky is most likely not going to make the NCAA Tournament. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s the reality we must accept after the loss at Auburn.
Even though UK has struggled at Auburn Arena over the last five years, the Tigers are not a great basketball team. This was just their second SEC win of the season. Every advanced stats proprietor called this game a toss up. This was a game Kentucky needed to win, they were in a position to win and failed to finish the job. John Calipari deserves all of the blame for this loss.
Next week’s schedule will take it easy on the Wildcats. After that four top 25 teams await. This team has done nothing to convince us they can defeat good teams and their head coach has not done anything to suggest he will make significant changes to ensure UK will not miss the NCAA Tournament.