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February 12, 2014
Upset bid falls short
Denson sank the shot to give Auburn its first lead of the game against No. 14 Kentucky. For a moment, the Tigers tasted the opportunity for victory.
That feeling didn't last long. Auburn slipped into a four-minute drought Kentucky used its size and physicality to muscle its way to a 64-56 victory with rebounds and consistent free-throw shooting.
Auburn (11-38) battled intensely after going down 18-8 midway through the first half.
In fact, the Tigers held the Wildcats to 31 percent shooting for the game and outscored Kentucky in the paint, 32-22.
Still, Auburn lost the rebounding battle. And that was key.
"It's like all the games we lost," Denson said. "We lost it in the trenches. We call the trenches rebounding. We didn't make the plays down the stretch. We played conservative trying to hold the lead and you can't do that with a good team like Kentucky."
During Auburn's critical, four-minute scoring drought, No. 14 Kentucky (19-5, 9-2) scored nine points and never looked back once reclaiming the lead.
"Kentucky made winning plays when the game mattered," coach Tony Barbee said. "That doesn't mean they made more shots. They made more winning plays."
Each of Kentucky's starters stand at 6-foot-6 or above; an advantage many expected the Wildcats to exploit against Auburn's three-guard lineup. The Wildcats outrebounded Auburn, 49-36.
"They're a good defensive team," Barbee said. "They're long. They're hard to score on that way."
The 6-foot-2 Denson did his part for Auburn, scoring 26 points and going 9-of-11 from the line. With Asauhn Dixon-Tatum plagued by foul trouble, Atewe was huge on both ends of the court with six points and four blocks to go with his 13 boards. Tahj Shamsid-Deen used all of his diminutive 5-10 stature to add nine points and six rebounds.
Shockingly, the problem for the Tigers offensively was KT Harrell.
For the first time in an Auburn uniform, Harrell failed to score double-digit points. He finished 2-of-15 from the floor with seven points and two rebounds.
After the game, Denson's frustration with his teammate's off night was apparent. "Coach always says, 'Contribute to the team,'" Denson said. "I have the ultimate trust in KT. It's difficult, though, when you're the only one in double figures."
Barbee echoed Denson's thoughts, but said he's not disappointed in Harrell's effort.
"It's not disappointing," Barbee said. "It's no secret we need Chris Denson and KT Harrell to be big for us at the same time. We had our opportunities, we just didn't take advantage of them today. We've got to go get rebounds, that's what it's about."
Auburn (11-11, 3-8) has now dropped three games this season at home to ranked conference opponents. All three losses have been by single digits.
The Tigers will look to snap their two-game losing streak Saturday against Mississippi State inside the Auburn Arena.