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January 11, 2012

Kentucky finishes strong to pull away at Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. - You could have seen a 15-point win coming. You could have predicted that Kentucky basketball fans would chant "Go Big Blue!" down the stretch of a 68-53 Wildcat win against Auburn here on Wednesday night.

You couldn't have predicted this.

You couldn't have known it would be a nail-biter. And with 10:52 to play and No. 2 UK trailing 47-45, you couldn't have imagined the Cats (16-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) would put on a clinic in closing.

"We just stuck together as a team," said guard Doron Lamb, who scored 14 points coming off the bench for the first time this season. "We communicated at the end of the game, and ran our offense really well at the end of the game, executed."

Kentucky scored 23 of the game's last 29 points in front of a rowdy Auburn crowd, and behind balanced scoring pulled away for the kind of road win that was a rarity last season in SEC play.

The Wildcats were 2-6 on the road in conference play last season, and for 30 minutes, Wednesday's game followed the familiar script John Calipari's Cats penned then.

Auburn played arguably its best game of the season. The Tigers (10-6, 0-2) entered the game shooting 43.8 percent as a team this season. They shot 48.1 percent in the first half.

Tony Barbee's team came into the game outrebounding opponents by 0.5 boards per game, but until the final stretch, the Tigers tamed Kentucky on the backboards.

"They wanted it worse than we did," Calipari said. "They played with a desire that we didn't have."

But the Cats found it at the finish.

UK grabbed 14 of the game's last 18 rebounds to keep the final rebounding margin respectable - Auburn finished with a 35-29 edge - and to hold Auburn to one shot on down-the-stretch possessions.

Offensively, the crunch-time execution that so often was lacking last season on the road was crucial on Wednesday. Kentucky scored on its last seven possessions, including a three-pointer by Darius Miller out of a timeout with 3:35 to play that put UK in front 57-49.

"We made the three coming out of that timeout, which was a big play, and Marquis Teague read it," Calipari said. "We were either going lob or three. That's what we were doing, one of the two, and he executed it right…, bang, gives Darius that three, and Darius made it."

Lamb, who made a three-pointer at the 5:09 mark to put UK in front 54-49, added four free throws in the final 2:10 and threw a lob that Anthony Davis dunked with 1:31 to play that gave the Cats their first double-digit lead at 62-51.

Kentucky got balanced scoring, with Davis matching Lamb's 14 points and Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague adding 12 points each.

After the game, Barbee lamented that his team still is looking for "catalysts" who make key plays in the game's final five minutes.

"They have them, and they made them," Barbee said. "We don't, and we didn't."

Calipari said he was "proud" of the way his players finished the game. But he warned that if the Wildcats rely on those heroics, the rest of their road trips won't end so well.

"I'm telling you, if we don't understand going in we've got to go and just from start to finish play like a team that's on a mission, then we're going to lose games," Calipari said. "Because every team is going to give us their best shot."


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