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Auburn hosts Kentucky in top 15 showdown

AUBURN | All Bruce Pearl wants to talk about is Kentucky’s 33-3 series record against Auburn since 1990. But the Tigers have a chance to beat the Wildcats for a third-straight time at home Saturday for only the second time in program history.

No. 14 Auburn and No. 12 Kentucky are also the first two ranked SEC teams to play each other in the nine-year history of the Auburn Arena.

“It's going to be a great atmosphere, for sure. I know it's going to be a sold out crowd,” junior Jared Harper said. “We're going to have a lot of energy from the fans, a lot of energy from our team. This is a big game for us coming home. We got a good one at Texas A&M, so I think we're kind of starting to get in the flow of things of playing our best basketball. So it's going to be a big game.”

Harper is averaging 15.1 points and an SEC-high 6.7 assists per game. (Jay G. Tate/

The Tigers, 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, have won 10-straight games when Auburn Arena sells out. The Wildcats enter the matchup 13-3 and 3-1 in the conference.

“What an amazing opportunity for our basketball team, to be able to match up with them,” Pearl said. “The guards are all pros. I think Ashton (Hagans) and Tyler (Herro) and Keldon (Johnson). Great size. Great bodies, mature bodies, for young kids, for freshmen. They don’t play like freshmen. (PJ) Washington probably could’ve gone last year and decided to come back. Probably would’ve been a second-round pick. He’ll work his way into the first round at some point.

“Sometimes Kentucky teams come in and they’re just ultra-talented. They’re just ultra-talented. If they play hard on that night, and they play well that night, you’ve got no chance. This team is talented, but this team has played hard every night. They play hard.”

The matchup at point guard between Harper and Hagans will be a key. Harper leads the SEC averaging 6.7 assists per game while Hagans, another in a long line of talented UK freshman, is second in the SEC with 36 steals. Hagans visited Auburn several times during the recruiting process and has known Harper for a few years.

The two will square off against each other on the court for the first time Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT on ESPN.

“I don't think I'm focusing on the matchup of me and him, I'm focusing more just the matchup, the team of Auburn against Kentucky,” Harper said. “We're gonna play them twice this year, and we're gonna start out with them at home this year. So this is gonna be a big game for us looking to us to continue to play well.”